Monday, November 9, 2009

Walk With Me Again?

Tonight, I'm going to ask you to take another walk with me. A figurative walk, that is. I'm not actually going to move from the comfort of my couch.

Actually, it is comfort that I am going to talk about tonight. There are so many things that God can use to bring us comfort. I will warn you right now... the following paragraphs may contain more than you want to know about me. You may have this image in your head of who I am, of how I am. But tonight, as I pray... I want you to witness what God has done for me. Not so that you can say, "Wow, God... thank you for what you did for Jenn. That was really great..."

I want you to see what He has done, and say, "God... me too." I want you to come before Him, broken. I want you to lay whatever is shattered down, and turn your face toward the only One who can put you back together. My heart's cry is that my transparency here would give you a glimpse of Him. A glimpse of what He wants to do for you. And I want you to let Him comfort you.

The first stop on this walk of ours is in a dark room, when I was about six and a half. It was late - my dad was asleep in the next room. His snores were the only sound I could hear. There was no moonlight, just the shadows from the trees between the street lamp and my window. I had pulled the blankets up to just under my nose.

There was something there, in the corner of my room. Something dark. I couldn't actually see it the same way that a person sees another person standing there. It is hard to explain, hard to describe.

Have you ever seen the shadow of someone behind you? You can't see the person, and they aren't actually there for you to see. But at the same time, the evidence is there. That is sort of what this was like.

But the terror that gripped my heart as I stared? I cannot put it into words. I have never, ever, felt anything so intensely. Even the memory of that feeling is enough to make me break into a sweat. I have been terrified plenty of other times. I've been sure I was going to die. Sure that someone I loved was going to die. I've known that great harm would come to someone I cared for. I've even spent some time believing I couldn't possibly go anywhere other than hell when I died. The terror of those things? Pale, weak, can't even be compared to what was in my room that night.

The next day, I prayed. On my knees, I prayed for Jesus to come into my heart. I prayed for Him to be with me in my room. I prayed that He would help me. That night, I couldn't sleep. I was waiting for my dad to go to bed. Waiting for the darkness. For the silence. For the terror. Instead, there was peace. Sweet, amazing peace. I lay in my bed, thankful for the peace. The sting of last night's terror was still fresh, but His presence was stronger.

I asked my dad about it, several days later. Told him what I'd seen. Told him what I'd felt. Asked if he thought I was crazy. He said no. Demons were (and are) very real, and the presence of one would bring with it terror unlike anything else I'd known. But the peace that was there the next night? The peace that only He could have granted? The terror can't stand up to that.

Have you known terror? True terror? Maybe, just maybe, you are walking in it right now. Maybe tonight, you are afraid to let yourself think that there could ever be help or hope for you. Maybe you've never known anything else - maybe each day has been a fight for survival. Maybe you know, beyond any doubt, that something horrible is about to happen. If that's you, will you trust Him? Will you let Him fill you with His peace?

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)

The next place we are going moves us forward in time. I was fourteen. It was early morning, and the sun was filling our tent with warmth. Mist was rising from the river, and everything looked like it was glowing. My best friend was asleep beside me. And I knew.

Beyond any doubt, as certain as I knew that I was breathing, I knew that my mom had left. I knew that when we got home, dad would be letting me know. I knew her things would mostly be gone. Knew that there would be little reminders - a hint of perfume in the bathroom, the odd article of clothing. Probably some makeup in the drawer.

I could feel the crushing weight - sorrow, grief, abandonment, anger. I knew that dad would not be okay with it. And then, like a blanket, His presence was on me. I asked why He would tell me now - why I couldn't just find out when I got home. But as He reminded me that morning... sometimes, it is better to know.

And that morning, He reminded me. He is with me, always. Even to the ends of the earth. His calm confidence filled my heart as I lay there. My friend opened her eyes, staring at me. She didn't speak - I knew she wouldn't.

"My mom left. I don't know how I know... but I do. She's gone."

And without words, she was there. Sadness on her face. Determination. Looking at her in the silence, I knew that there was something tangible in my life that would not be changing. As I contemplated her steadfast, unyielding loyalty, a gentle voice whispered in my heart.

"I am more loyal than even her."

Have you ever been abandoned? Have you ever had a part of your heart torn away? Have you fallen to your knees in desperation and despair, crying out to God for answers? Have you ever wondered how you could survive without someone? If you have, I pray that the following words would minister to you as they have to me.

I am with you always, to the very end of the days. (Matthew 28:20)

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See? I have engraved you on the palms of my hands... (Isaiah 49:15-16a)

You see... people can forget. People can move on. They can be hard, cruel, deceptive. But God? He cannot forget. He will not leave you. He cares for you. He wants to be with you, wants you to seek Him. Always and only says what is true.

When your world is rocked by abandonment or betrayal, He is still there. He still cares. He is still faithful. Nothing can change that. Will you open yourself up to trust Him? Will you allow Him to show you His unchanging, never-ending, perfect faithfulness?

Now, we are going to continue walking forward. By the time I was 16, I was deeply entrenched in self-destruction. Most people would have said I was doing well. My grades were okay, I didn't smoke, drink, or use any illegal drugs. I had a group of friends, was active in other activities.

But at night, when the world slept, I changed. Deliberately harming myself, using whatever method was convenient that night. Nobody knew the extent of what I was doing. Nobody. My dad and my grandparents had gotten me hooked up with a counselor, and even he was fooled by my insistence that everything was fine.

The day came when I had put my body through too much. I passed out at school. An ambulance was called when I began turning blue. As I came to in the emergency room, I stared at the faces around me. My thoughts were racing, not making sense. One thing kept coming up though. I believed with everything in me that I was done. I "knew" that I couldn't survive much longer. Knew I couldn't amount to anything. I lay flat on my back, watching the crazy pattern on the EKG machine. I wondered when my heart would finally stop beating - I was that convinced that I couldn't live.

A doctor came in, closing the door behind himself. Soft-spoken, gentle. He explained the heart rhythm. Explained that they were going to give me something in my IV to slow it down. Asked about the injuries that covered my body.

He prayed over me.

That evening, when I was preparing to leave, he came into the room and asked my grandparents to leave. He stood at the foot of the bed, and reminded me of what the Word of God says.

"For I know the thoughts and plans I have for you," says the Lord, "thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome." (Jeremiah 29:11)

This is why we work and struggle: We hope in the living God who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:10)

May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father encourage you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say. God loved us, and through His grace He gave us a good hope and encouragement that continues forever. (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

These two things cannot change: God cannot lie when he makes a promise, and he cannot lie when he makes an oath. These things encourage us who came to God for safety. They give us strength to hold on to the hope we have been given. (Hebrews 6:18)

I asked him what he meant. Surely, he could see the marks on my body. Surely he knew where the path I was on would take me. How could he talk to me about hope, about God wanting to do good things in my life?

His answer? He simply saw what God saw. A beautiful creation. He saw a future. Saw hope. Saw possibility and potential.

Have you been where I was that night? The words spoken didn't change anything right then. But over the next weeks, they echoed in my head. I thought about them. In tears, I asked God why I couldn't see any of those things in myself.

Do you know what I found? I found that He is not asking me to have hope in my ability. He hasn't said that I myself will be responsible for this "good future." He never expected me to make any of it happen. He said it. He meant it. He will bring it to pass. My job? To trust Him. To let Him shape me. To let Him take the pieces and put them in order.

Can you do that? Can you dare to hope again? If all you see is destruction, if all you can picture is pain, sorrow, despair... can you let yourself believe Him? Will you give Him a chance to fill you with hope? Your future isn't dependent on you or your abilities. It is dependent on Him. And He can never fail.

We're going to skip some years now. I was 22 years old. My husband and I were expecting a baby. We had prayed for a girl. My stomach grew quickly. By 10 weeks, nearly everyone knew. My pants no longer fit. I threw up many times each day, but it was so worth it. There was joy. My dad, Derek's parents, my grandparents. Everyone who found out. All were so joyful. So excited. We talked about names. Listened to PraiseBaby CD's we'd been given for her. I would try to hide my smile. I wanted to cherish the secret, but couldn't seem to stop telling others.

I had my first midwife appointment. She used the Doppler to look for a heartbeat. We kept getting little blips of it, and then it would disappear. She assured me that at 10 weeks, it was early to be finding it. Explained that there was nothing to be concerned about. Offered a follow up two weeks later.

At that appointment, we once again found the heartbeat for only a moment or two. I told the midwife how I had felt tiny little flutters, and was pretty sure it was the baby. She agreed. Said it was early, but definitely not unheard of. Two weeks later I spent the night in the bathroom, unable to sleep through the pain. I called the nurse several times, and was assured that if there was no bleeding, there was nothing to be concerned about.

The next day, I called my doctor. Told him that I was worried. Said that I hadn't felt any movement during the last few days. He assured me everything was fine - 14 weeks was too early to reliably feel movement anyway. Offered to have me come in and get checked out. My husband drove with me. We were together when the only sound the Doppler made was the slow swooshing of my own pulse. Together when the ultrasound tech turned the screen away and told us the other doctor would talk with us about the results. Together when she said that there was no reason to believe I'd ever had a viable pregnancy.

We drove in silence. I was afraid to say anything. I wanted to have faith. Wanted to believe that somehow, that still, silent image on the screen was my imagination. But truthfully, I was broken. We stopped at a gas station so I could use the restroom. I finished up, and fell to my knees right there. I promised God that whatever the outcome, I would continue to serve Him. Made a resolution in my heart to draw closer to Him. As I prayed, the heartache grew.

But at the same time, the peace grew. The calm assurance that only comes from Him. The peace that surpasses all understanding.

For He Himself is our peace. (Ephesians 2:14)

Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God. And God's peace shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6 & 7)

Are you desperate? Is the news not good? Are your thoughts racing? Is there no way out of the situation that you are in? If so, I have good news: you are not alone. He sees you. Knows what you're going through. Has known since the beginning of time. He may not want it, may not desire it, and may not be responsible for it. But He knows. And He has provided for you, exactly what you need. When everything else seems to be moving a million miles an hour, His word does not change. It will be there. Steady. Perfect. Immutable.

There is more, though.

It was several weeks later. My husband and I were on our way home from Denver. I had not yet started the physical process of "miscarriage." I was staring out the window, holding my still bulging stomach. I couldn't get one thought out of my mind: I am walking around with my dead child. I apologize if that's more 'graphic' than you'd like, but it was true, and it was what I kept thinking. Every time I looked down, or touched my stomach... I remembered. Remembered that the child who had been alive was now dead.

I prayed. Quietly - I didn't want to disturb Derek. So as I stared at the passing scenery, I whispered.

"God... this is so hard. Parents should never endure the death of their child. I know we haven't really gotten to "know" this child, and I know many will say it isn't really even a child. But it is. And it hurts. And now this child, my child, is dead."

I didn't hear anything from Him. No booming voice, no gentle whisper. My mind wandered for a few moments, as I continued to sit in silence. Then, slowly, it settled on the words of the song.

"You alone of Father, and You alone are good. You alone are Savior, and You alone are God."

As the words repeated, I realized that they were true. So true. He alone is God. He alone is good. I let that knowledge - that never changing, never bending truth, that He alone is God - seep into my consciousness. I was focusing so much on those words, and on Him, and His unchanging nature, that the next words completely caught my attention.

The voices of many children blended together. Exuberant. Joyful. Confident. The sound suddenly seemed... almost unreal. I saw that same face I had seen in a dream, this time surrounded by other faces. What were they singing?

"I'm alive! I'm alive! I'm alive!"

Such simple words. But the truth of those words stopped me in my tracks. I wasn't instantly "over it." I didn't suddenly stop missing her. The sadness didn't lift. But hope flooded in. Why? Because I finally got it. My child would never take a breath on earth. But she was, and is, very much alive. More alive than I have ever been.

Tears flowed freely as I whispered the next phrase. You alone, are Father. You alone are Good.

And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life. This life is in His son, Christ Jesus. He who has the Son has life; He who does not have the Son does not have eternal life. (1 John 5:11 & 12)

For now, I am done. I pray that by sharing myself with you in this way, I have given you a glimpse of my God. I don't believe for even a millisecond that He causes bad things to happen (See John 10:10 if you want proof). But I do believe that when bad things happen, He is there. He can comfort. He can turn the situation into something that works for our good.

He wants to help you. Almighty God Himself, creator of the universe, wants to help you. Will you let Him? Can you open your heart to Him tonight? Will you pray with me?

"Lord, I need you. You know my situation. You know every last detail of the hurt inside. You know how desperate I am. But Lord, I know you love me. I know that you are Holy. I know that you came, so I could have life more abundantly. So right now, this day, this very hour, I am asking You to help. I am trusting you enough to lower my guard. I am trusting you with the broken pieces, with the heartache, with the trials."

Cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

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