I woke up with a song echoing in my head today. Imagine my surprise when I opened my Bible app to find those very words:
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.Isaiah 40:8 NASB
Seasons change, and our lives may move to different rhythms. But our Living Word, Jesus Christ, remains solid and unchanging for us. This past month I saw a new Rheumatologist. A new Doctor for a new state, here in this season of transition. And he shocked me with his words:
“I see no need to try to add in any other medication. Your body has clearly rejected so many. You have actually been managing your flares wisely.”
Managing wisely? How could that be? I have felt so weak in knowing how to pace my days. When I mulled over the Doctor’s words the next day, I knew WHO had been doing the managing. In spite of my weakness and fleshly ways of trying to carry the burdens myself, God has always been the One carrying me.
Even when I have not acknowledged or seen His hand–He has always been shaping and molding my heart. The pain might rage, or my weakened flesh might grow weary, but HE is my One unchanging steady point.
Chapter 10. 2004 – 2014
If you have missed any of the previous chapters in the book, Our Story, A Ministry of Abiding, click here to catch up.
After 26 years of marriage and living in rented homes, my husband had found a permanent position at one of the companies where he had long been a temp. And God made the call unmistakable and the way open for us to purchase a home in a small town in Southeast Wisconsin. It was an entirely new way of living.
Where I had learned to move so quickly through all of my chores so that I would have time for the inevitable interruptions, suddenly my days moved at a slower pace. As I questioned my motives for fixing up our home, I heard the Lord speak that it was good to work on our own place of dwelling, because He was working on me—HIS place of dwelling.
And then a few years later, as I questioned my “spare time” again when all of our kids had graduated, I heard the answer to my question of whether I should return to work, “Your work is your prayer.” I knew the years of intercession were not over, as I lifted up my heart now for our young adult children and the struggles they faced.
I felt so alone in my prayers for their spiritual walk. We had finally found a church where the Lord asked us to remain. But I could find no place to connect with a prayer group. Instead, God opened up another kind of joining with His Body. Across the miles, I joined via phone with my dear friend and her Intercessory Moms’ group. When I was able to be present with them for a meeting, I remembered a dream from a few months prior to the group’s beginning:
In the dream I was seated in a Bible Study Group with women, in a small room. The adjoining room had another study group seated together. As I got up to move, I paused at the doorway between the two rooms and began weeping. As I cried, the words, “The young ones, The young ones,” gushed forth from deep within. Then the pastor’s wife of my current church jumped up to help me as I was about to collapse. I awoke from my dream, or so I thought, but I was still dreaming. My husband was comforting me as I cried, and spoke aloud that I was interceding like Ruth had done in the Bible. And then I did awaken, to find actual tears flowing down my cheeks.
God was again bringing intercession home to me in a personal way. As I prayed for my own children, my heart was joined with those other Moms and their children. Over our months together, we saw miracles from God’s Spirit pouring over our children, and over ourselves. Years later, as I attended the funeral of one of those Moms, I wept as I listened to her once-estranged daughter speak with such love for her mom and for the Lord who had lifted her out of deadly places.
At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home.Zephaniah 3:20
While I was praying for our children to come home, He was bringing me home. A few years after we had started to settle into our new church, the same denominational leaders who had been notified of our “need for discipline” visited our church. Those leaders could not even remember the past events. God had removed the stigma that was attached to us. But the stigma in my heart did not lift away so easily.
We became deeply involved in leadership again, in lay-level positions. Our perspective on the Body of Christ and ministry was once again widening. We loved our time of serving and helping. And that meant serving at just about every level, from cleaning up after gatherings, to teaching, to writing, and leading large group dramas there.
I heard God asking me to be willing to share my heart of prayer more freely, and not to hide it away any longer. I led the Prayer Chain, and I started our own Mom’s Intercession Study Group. My husband served on the board as well as teaching adult and children’s classes. Beautiful community together flowed around us.
All the while, God was uncovering that stigma in my heart, the part that I had carried as my fault, the part that manifested as my responsibility to care for others. Only God can carry that responsibility, and there will eventually come a time when we are crushed beneath the weight, if we try to carry it ourselves. When that crushing came for me, I stepped back from almost all of my responsibilities at the church. All, but not quite all, because I still maintained that need to serve, and eventually I let my time become just as full as it had been before.
Serving is a good gift, unless it is tied up with that insidious yoke of responsibility. Both my dear prayer partner and another dear friend from the church would often pray this verse with me:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”Matthew 11:28-30 NIV
I asked the Lord continuously to show me HIS meaning that somehow I was not grasping.
While I had been busy serving at our new church, I had also become busy serving and tending relationships in our small town neighborhood. I had even taken on a very small business of “caretaking” as I tended gardens, babysat, and drove my dear Ukrainian Second-Mom to her Doctor appointments and shopping. At about that same time there was a change in the pastoral leadership in our church.
While the new leadership of our church began to place a deeper emphasis on the spiritual condition of the world around us, my dear Ukrainian Second Mom began to unburden her heart to me about the deep darkness in her past. I started reading Scripture aloud and praying with her, as we both wept together.
And then I had what I would later come to know as my first Rheumatoid Arthritis flare. At the time, I thought it was the excessive gardening that I had worked on with my neighbor. When it returned with more pain, the new church leadership thought it might be a spiritual attack, because the enemy didn’t want me praying with my neighbor. They hinted that if I just prayed hard enough then the attack would end.
I tried to pray against the attack, and to keep pressing forward with my duties, in spite of the pain. However, I didn’t realize the spiritual work the Lord was accomplishing in my heart. He was beginning to answer my cry to know His rest and His sufficiency more deeply.
But first, He would show me a hidden area in my heart that needed His healing.
One Sunday evening at a prayer meeting, we began to pray over the deep wounding that our church body had gone through more than a decade before we started attending. It was a moral failing from which many in the church had never fully recovered. Much prayer for healing had been offered through the years. On that particular evening, I felt the Lord ask me to get up and to walk with Him through the halls of that old church building.
As I approached the darkest hallway, where the abuse had been uncovered so many years before, I heard the Lord quietly ask me a question:
Will you lay down your bitterness and ask for forgiveness?
It couldn’t be! I had been praying for the people there to find forgiveness and lay down their bitterness, but now He was asking that of me?
And I suddenly realized that yes, I had held onto bitterness and anger over the way the people of the church had to suffer from the years of ridicule heaped on them. As I touched each room in that hallway, my heart released the deep pain I had carried for them, and I found the Lord’s forgiveness in such a precious way. Not only was He covering my heart with forgiveness for this people’s past, but He was covering my heart with forgiveness for the wounding in my own past. His commands are not burdensome, because they lead us to the treasures of HIS life within.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ,Ephesians 1:7-10
As I wept with the beauty of knowing that I was forgiven for holding onto bitterness, I also wept with the beauty of being allowed to offer forgiveness to others. It was all such a gift of grace, with no striving required.
The mercy of God astounded me. And in that moment I had a vision of the beauty of my Lord Jesus, walking before me, leading the way into the depth of His heart there in that hallway. But He did not stop at the end of the hallway. No, He turned and walked out of the building into the wide open world. I had no way of knowing how this vision would actually be fulfilled in my life within just a few short weeks.
Have you felt the touch of God’s finger pointing to areas of long-held bitterness in your heart?
Perhaps He has a gift for you today. Being forgiven is not just a one-way street, but it is a treasure to be offered when we see God’s overwhelming love.
Can you hear His whisper calling you to follow?