Arise and Shine: Beloved, You are Mine

Life is hard, so very hard. Oh yes, we know the truths of God’s beautiful Word, don’t we? But there are days the darkness presses in. Days our hearts, our minds, our souls struggle to breathe, to believe.

Where do we go on those days? When waves of crashing grief pull us under? When triggers of our past rip open deep wounds and leave us gasping for air? When it feels as if someone has strapped us into a frightening rollercoaster and our screams cannot escape?

Is there a place for us, for us wounded and broken, for us who have been told if we’d “just trust God at His Word” our storms would subside? For us, who run to hide behind closed doors, ashamed, weeping and fearful?

These are questions Bettie Gilbert, Anna Smit and their friends have wrestled through, lashed by the winds and waves of physical, mental and emotional turmoil. In Arise and Shine: Beloved, You Are Mine, a series of poetry, prayers and devotionals, we share how God has been meeting us right there. Not just once, but again and again. How He has been revealing hidden treasures in our struggles to breathe and believe.

These are treasures shrouded in the materials God’s people brought forward for the building of a Holy Temple centuries ago. Treasures now ready for the unveiling.

There is a place for us. Right here, right now. For the wind and waves, they define us as HIS. As fiercely loved, eternally chosen children of God, divinely called to “Arise and Shine!” 

Song of Songs 2: 8 - 17, ESV
The voice of my beloved!
Behold, he comes,
leaping over the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Behold, there he stands
behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
looking through the lattice.
My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,
for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away.
O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
in the crannies of the cliff,
let me see your face,
let me hear your voice,
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.
Catch the foxes for us,
the little foxes
that spoil the vineyards,
for our vineyards are in blossom.”
My beloved is mine, and I am his;
he grazes among the lilies.
Until the day breathes
and the shadows flee,
turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle
or a young stag on cleft mountains.

As the Lord calls us to Arise and Shine, He has let us know that we, His people, have now become His own dwelling place: the Temple of the Lord.  

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV)

For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ 2 Corinthians 6:16 (NIV)

Is there a parallel then, between the setting up and arranging of the early Tabernacle and the building up of our souls, God’s Holy Temple, in Jesus Christ, today? We have experienced and still are experiencing it to be so. 

Come, let’s invite Jesus, through His living Word and testimony in us, to uncover our Abba Father’s desires within us. Come, let’s listen for the free-will offerings of His grace that He is calling us to bring forward to Him today, so that we may obey Him and see the unveiling of His new Temple in our own physical bodies and in His unified Body, His Bride, as a whole.

We invite you, through the poems, prayers and devotionals of Arise and Shine: Beloved, You are Mine to take ahold of Jesus’ hand and our own. Come, let’s together discover and rediscover the power of:

  1. The Bread of Life to feed and sustain us.
  2. The Blood of Christ to move us to repentance and freedom.
  3. The Living Water of God to wash us in the truth and grace of God.
  4. The Fire and Salt applied by the Holy Spirit to purify us.
  5. The Breath of God to fill and empower us in our weakness.
  6. The Oil of God to anoint us in the presence of our enemy to taste and see the goodness of God in the salving of our wounds.
  7. The Sword of God wielded in and through us to cut through the lies of the enemy and see the deliverance of the Body of Christ.

Dear Lord,   

Take these simple offerings that you ask of us, and transform them into a sweet-smelling aroma where Your Truth will be clearly heard.  We pray for each child of yours You have led to read these words. May each one hear the calling of Your Spirit to join in with the offering of herself. 

Thank You for shining Your light on the dark places that You want to transform and redeem in our hearts.  May Your Spirit bring a beauty to Your people, and join us together as Your own Temple. May we hear Your call to us, as You ask us to show You our hearts, and come when You call.

In Jesus’ Mighty Name, 

Amen.

May you arise and shine in the light of Christ, for Beloved, you are the Lord’s!

Bettie Gilbert and Anna Smit have been compiling Arise and Shine to publish in a book (since 2017). But we both sensed God’s call to instead release the book He has been writing through us and on our hearts, these past few years, here at ShalomAleh.com. We will publish the poems, prayers and devotionals, piece by piece, as He directs us. You will be able to find these posts under the category Arise and Shine: Beloved, You are Mine.

Train Up A Child

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 22:6 (ESV)

I grew up in faith. Child of Kiwi missionaries to Germany, whose hearts beat with the love of and for their Lord. They brought me, my two sisters and my three brothers up in Christ. We tangibly experienced the presence of God in and through them – precisely also through my parents literally leaving everything behind to follow their LORD. 

I knew with one hundred percent certainty that my God existed. But despite this certainty I turned my back on Him more and more in my teenage years, as I exchanged God’s understanding for my own. Did my parents then not “train me up in the way [I] should go? And what is exactly “the way [our children] should go”?

When I returned to faith, with a one year old and four year old daughter, I dug deeply into this Proverb of King Solomon’s. It is then I discovered that for the Jewish people this Proverb called them to celebrate their adolescent child’s God-given calling. 

I learnt that it had much more to do with releasing our children into God’s hands than trying to mould our children to fit our way of thinking and doing things. The “way [our children] should go” is thus the path our God has already planned and chosen for them. 

Just as with Peter, Jesus prayed for me so that my faith would not fail, also through my parents’ many tearful prayers, even before Satan had begun to sift me like wheat and I began to turn away. And just like Peter, I have been rooted more deeply in my Lord precisely through the humbling knowledge that it is (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV): “by grace [I,] have been saved through faith. And this is not [my] own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Unlike when I was little, I now know that Christ’s power is made perfect in my and others’ weakness. I now know that the fear of man and pride are no match for our sovereign God.

He was never ashamed of my need for Him and still isn’t. For, from the very moment He called me, He knew my every weakness and how He would break it open and harness it for good, for me and for others, through my testimony to His goodness and mercy.

Now, God has given me physical evidence for His Promise to us, that when we give our hearts to Christ, He remains faithful to us in our faithlessness because He cannot disown Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). For, when we give our hearts to Jesus, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13-14 (ESV) puts it this way:

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

So, how do we “train up a child in the way he should go”? I believe, by placing them in our God’s hands again, again and again. By living in communion with our Savior and allowing Him to shape our prayers, thoughts and actions through His living moment-by-moment Word to us. 

God invites us to listen for His plan and purpose for our own and our children’s lives. A plan and purpose that will most definitely call us to lay down our own expectations and understanding to arise in Christ’s. Again and again.

My parents kept praying for me all those years. On my 59 year-old mother’s deathbed, as she surrendered absolutely everything to her LORD, I came face-to-face with the One true God. Through the palpable, gentle and loving peace of the Holy Spirit that fell upon my mother and myself, my hardened heart was broken open. 

As my mother experienced the kindness of our God, that led her to so much repentance and freedom in her final months, so I too experienced that same kindness through the power of the Holy Spirit falling upon her, and upon me.

In those final months of my Mum’s life, God gave me palpable evidence that He is never absent to us in our suffering. He showed me how He works in and through it to bless us and draw us ever closer to Him. He began opening my eyes to His Presence. Now, I have come to see and celebrate His fingerprints all over my life and the lives of those I love.

I had forsaken His call to continue interceding through the pain of watching loved ones suffer. I had turned away to numb my pain in sin. And yet, Christ continued interceding for, in and through me: lovingly guiding and shaping me through all those years I wandered in my blindness.

So, you see, my parents did train their daughter up in the way – God’s Way – she should go, from the very moment I was conceived. And therefore I have not departed from it. 

For, my parents chose to put their trust, not in their own “perfect” understanding or their own “perfect” parenting, but in our truly perfect God and His truly perfect love. In our God whose power is made perfect in our every weakness. 

Thanks be to God to whom all glory and honor be, forever and ever, Amen.

Father, thank You for Your precious Promises to us. Thank You that You are the God who loves to awe us with Your sovereign display of power in and through our weakness.

Father, I ask You to send this Word out to parents who are discouraged today. Discouraged, believing that they have failed You and their children. Remind them that their and their children’s weakness is a gift. A gift given to display the wonder of Your perfect love for us and Your unending faithfulness to us.

And for all returning Prodigals, I ask You to open their eyes, just as You have and continue to do my own, to see the fingerprints of glory all over their lives. Show them how You were preparing them for the calling upon their lives. Show them how You were opening their eyes and hearts to receive You in places they never would have otherwise gone. In Jesus’ precious Name, Amen.

This is the ninth installment of Anna Smit’s personal testimony to the love and mercy of Jesus. These installments of her testimony are God’s answer to all of us who have walked a path of trauma and heartache, believing our God has abandoned us. For He has never ever forsaken us and He wants us to know it, and to see the fingerprints of the Cross – and His unending love for us – all over our lives. For the first installment see: Love Never Ends

Anger’s Invitation

Did you know that the anger rising within us, is not our shame to hide, but Jesus’ invitation to come to Him just as we are. To let Him pick us up and hold us in His strong, safe arms. For, He longs to unravel our hearts in His mercy, to comfort and restore us in His love.

He won’t let us go in our anger. He promises to hold us tight and to speak HIS Word of truth and grace over us. Just as He has done for me, over and over again.

Once, in a vision during EMDR therapy, I saw Him pick me up to hold me close to His heart. I heard Him invite me to kick, scream and flail. He promised to hold me tight and not let me go. As He freed me to cast out what lurked within me, I felt the tension holding my body captive dissolve into tears, as He uncovered the wounds He had so longed to nurse.

You see, trauma cages us. Frozen in shock and fear, we are unable to feel and process what we have walked through. But even trauma is no match for our King of Kings and Lord of Lords. For, Jesus, like no other, knows what it is to walk through grave injustice. And so, rather than condemn us and our frozen hearts, He moves toward us in our need. He breathes His warmth over and into us to melt our hearts in His love for us.

He moves toward us to set our hearts free to run in the path of His commands. For, He longs to fill us with peace and to release rivers of mercy from us. Just like the rivers of mercy that flowed in His tears for us, as He walked toward the Cross to do the will of His Father for the joy set before Him.

Psalm 7:11 says “God is a righteous judge, a God who displays His wrath every day.” We love to talk of the God of love, but that same God of love also loves through His wrath and through His justice. He hates sin because it cripples, shames and enslaves us.

So, when we walk through injustice and suffering, God is angry and He weeps. He is not aloof or lacking in compassion. Rather, even now, His hand of justice is working to bring full restoration and healing. 

Part of this restoration and healing comes in the release of our hearts from anger. Anger is a natural human response to situations, where we feel helpless. Our bodies seek to restore the control taken from us, by asserting control. But this anger hides the very real wounds inside us that are crying out to be nursed.

God knows that anger, if not released, will only further destroy our souls and infect all our relationships. It enables the thief and accuser of our souls to steal, kill and destroy. This is why God calls us to cast our burdens upon Him and to pour out our hearts to Him. 

Casting is a strong word. It doesn’t mean settling ourselves down first to then speak in polite niceties to our Savior. It means Christ is inviting us to get real before Him. To turn our anger toward Him that HE may lift its heavy weight off of us. And where we are frozen in trauma, He is more than able to free us to express our anger and to release our tears.

In expressing our anger freely, we follow in the footsteps of King David and many prophets in the Bible, who didn’t hide their anger, but spoke it aloud before their Maker in deep laments, as they walked through grave injustice in doing the will of their God.

Jesus is not ashamed of us in our anger. The anger is only His invitation to come to Him, just as we are. To allow Him to unravel our hearts, comfort us in our pain, and transform our anger into rivers of mercy.

Will you join me in prayer?

Thank You, LORD, that You see me, You see all the injustice I and my loved ones have walked through.  Thank You that You are angry too, that You are a holy God of wrath and justice, who has not turned a blind eye to our suffering (Hebrews 10:30). 

Thank You that Your heart weeps at the destruction wreaked by the enemy of our souls (Luke 19:41, John 11:35). Thank You that I can come before Your throne in complete confidence that you accept me, as I am (Hebrews 4:16). Thank You that I don’t need to clean myself up first, but that I can come just as I am, knowing You will not turn me away (Psalm 55: 22). 

Thank You that my righteousness has been bought at the Cross to set me free from all unholy anger, bitterness and rage that consumes me, that You may uncover and nurse the wounds hidden within me.

LORD, thank You that You are my refuge and strength. As I come to You now, breathe Your warmth over and into me. Melt me in Your love and mercy.

For, LORD, I turn to You now as I am. Unravel me in Your living and breathing Word of truth, love and grace. Melt my heart in the arms of Jesus to pour out all that lurks within me. Release Your mercy richly in and through me.

Set me free that my lips may speak of Your mercy for us all. I am opening my hands wide to receive Your ‘wildly extravagant life gift, this grand setting-everything-right’ (Romans 5: 17 MSG). Hear my cry for mercy! In Your precious Name, Amen.

Delight

How can I rest
How can I open
My palms, let go
And rest?


How can I receive
The Word
That says You delight
In me?


When Your Word in me
Has turned backs on me
Silenced, shunned
And shamed I AM.


How can I
Receive
Delight
In that?


Am I not a mistake
Fatally flawed
Don't the turning backs
Only affirm?


"Oh my child
Each turning back
Only affirms My heart
Of love and mercy in you.



"Acknowledge Me
In all of your Ways
Make firm the path
Of My anointing.



"Let me shed
The old and unfitting
Welcome each petal
Gently befitting.



"See now
The lily of the valley
Arising atop of the hill
Set before you.


"Receive
The wind's blowing
The river flowing
From My throne on high.


"In each
Setting apart
Unwrap the gift
Freely given.


"Be not afraid
When you hear
The heart
Of Christ knocking.


"See My face
And Body
On every street
Turning.


"Toward the hand
Rejected by man
Those feet
Trembling lame.


"And coming
Hand in hand
My Bride
Unto Me.


"Fully known
And unblemished
Healed and
United whole.



"Arise
And shine
My land betrothed
On a hill.


"You are
Eternally blooming
In the light
Of Your Groom.


"From everlasting
To everlasting
Come let Me
Welcome you: home!



"Delight
In Me
For I delight
In you.



'You will also be [considered] a crown of glory and splendor in the hand of the L ord , And a royal diadem [exceedingly beautiful] in the hand of your God.'
It will no longer be said of you [Judah], “Azubah (Abandoned),”
Nor will it any longer be said of your land, “Shemamah (Desolate)”;
But you will be called, “Hephzibah (My Delight is in Her),”
And your land, “I.e. Beulah, pronounced Be-oo-lah.Married”;
For the Lord delights in you,
And to Him your land will be married [owned and protected by the Lord].
Isaiah 62: 3 - 4 (AMP)

As I put the finishing touches on this poem, with the line: “Welcome you: Home”, this song began playing:

At random and then this:

I love it when God sings back to me, affirming His heart in every Word He speaks to me.

Trust

You tell me
Trust is a muscle
You tell me
Growing
Is feeling
And stretching
The heart
Of flesh
You have
Given.

You tell me
This contracting
Is Your labor
Trust in me
Sowing
Bringing the peace
Of Your pacing
Your holy awakening
In my inhale
And exhale.

You remind me
It's in the releasing
In the yielding
To Your will
I can experience the fruit
And taste
The ravenous joy
Of living secure
Overshadowed
By mercy.

You remind me
You're not withholding
The good
But only awakening
The best
An abundance
Of longing and hunger
You've planted deep
To know
Love everlasting.

You remind me
To not cower in shame
But in boldness
To move
To believe
My each and every
Change of mind
Departing the old
For the new
Is beautiful to You.

For, it's You
Who's moved my feet
Out of the mire
And onto the Rock
To shake off the dust
And behold
Your face
You're lifting the veil
That's been hiding
You.

Yes, each living Word
Engraved on this heart
Has fully released
The pain of my past
No need to turn back
Pleading for mercy
Fighting for truth
Or grieving the lost
For Your blood
Covers it all.

Now, I willingly
Bow the knee
And drink the cup
Eagerly awaiting
Your sovereign revealing
For, in the breaking
Of bread and this cup
I now recognize You
My Portion, Deliverer
The Resurrection and Life.


Psalm 71:8
My mouth is filled with your praise,
declaring your splendor all day long.

Psalm 150:6
Let everything that has breath praise
the Lord. Praise the Lord.

Romans 8:14-19 (ESV)
14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.




Answered Prayers

Today, my thoughts have turned to answered prayers. As I reflected on Easter, I thought about Jesus being the answer to generation upon generation of prayers. And how that answer to all those prayers came in such an unexpected way that many missed the answer. They missed our Savior’s coming, misunderstood or even helped bring about His death and couldn’t believe in His resurrection.

But what a gift Jesus was and is to those of us who, through the touch of the Holy Spirit, have recognized His coming, His death for us and His resurrection to give us new life. As we walk toward Easter weekend and remember Christ’s death on the Cross and His resurrection, may He open our eyes, ears and hearts to recognize the many answers to prayers He has brought. May we also become His answer to the prayers of others as we obey His calling. And may our ears continue to hearken to His promptings to pray in the Spirit for the return of His children and the coming of His Kingdom.

May the beautiful answers He brings us, through His Presence with us, also become answers for others also. May we share the hope and comfort He has given us with those He places before us. 

Happy Easter! As you celebrate Jesus this week, may this poem and song encourage and uplift you:

HOPE

Beckoning Hope

Where it was once want

Leading to Light we now see.

Always so near

He never abandons

Ever so patient, remains.

Sending 

His palm branch 

Blessed of grace that we are.

Coming in splendor

Sun streaming glory

Bathing us here in His Light.

No longer weighted 

Our burden Lifter

Always He’s breathing to Life.

Promise in bruisèd

And smoldering wick

He will not break or snuff out.

Justice He brings 

In captives He frees

Hope’s strong Voice in us lifts.

Thankful we raise

Our anthem of praise

Casting abandoned our cares.

Raising His children 

Hand lifting faces

Shining, His radiance us glows.

Broken, victorious

Guilty, forgiven

No longer shame, here our name.

Called and He’s chosen

Redeemed and belovèd

Nothing His love can destroy.

All dark and hopeless

Purposed for Living 

Christ in us be raised.

Our eyes He gives us

“It’s finished” gifts us

Whole and His Perfect to see.

Cocooning safely

Releasing gently

Wings in His timing unfold.

His thoughts above ours

Master’s own brushstrokes

Poema loved, we are His.

Let us not draw back

Hide or strive fearful 

But come as children restored.

He will not shun us

Remove or shame us

But only break open to Life.

Give thanks for the bread broken 

His Body saved us

Living, His blood in us streams.

Every tear 

And every ache

Sin and our weakness, He’s borne.

Search here and know us, Lord

Let Your holiness draw us

Your will in grace, Christ fulfill.

Send us and teach us

Cross here to carry

Your Kingdom come to proclaim.

Comforted, comfort 

Loved first, we love

All You have given, we shall release.

Sharpened by iron

Hands clasped together 

One in Your Spirit: we each belong.

Let us not shirk 

Or fear filled withdraw now

But in Love’s own perfecting grow.

Our battle He’s won 

Our hearts now are His

Nothing shall stand in His way.

Heaven rejoices

Cheering us on

Hope beckoning us homeward.

https://youtu.be/F8iveLWYkZE

Perspective in Brush Strokes

Today’s post first appeared on my dear friend, Wendy Simpson’s blog, Widow’s Manna , about five years ago. Wendy is not only a creative writer, but an artist, producing beautiful sketches, paintings, intricately woven blankets and prayer shawls, plush toys, digital art and cards. You can find her artwork on her WordPress Wendy’s Vignettes and her Facebook Wendy’s Vignettes

 

Been thinking about perspective…..

 

Take a little time to look up an impressionist’s painting. I love Monet. With that fresh in your mind, think about perspective.  When you walk up close to this painting, you will observe thousands of small brush strokes in an array of colors. Close up there is some beauty but in many ways it looks like a lot of chaos truly makes no sense.  It is pretty hard to get an idea of what the artist it trying to express.  Now take several steps back from this painting.  Something amazing happens. Thousands of tiny brush strokes make way for shapes and structure. The colors blend together to create new colors and something you could not see before, takes shape.  The chaos become beautiful and the artist intended expression makes more sense. 

 

It is like that in life. When we are face to face with trials of life, there is not much room for perspective. We see the chaos of each brush stroke and a mess of color that seem strangely placed. There is no picture and beautiful is the last way we would describe our life.  But God sends people into our lives, who have been standing back observing this “painting” process in our life.  Their perspective is something we couldn’t see, being in the middle  of it all.  They see colors blending together and pictures that have taken shape.  They see that the artist intentions were beauty not chaos.  They see reasons for color choices, that we would never have chosen. So, all this to say, we are thankful for those who have spoken perspective into our lives. And those who have pointed out the order in our chaos.  

 

Both perspectives are necessary to walk through a process like this.  You can stand back and see the picture being painted before you and have, in turn shared what you observe, color blending and something taking shape.  I can share the details I don’t see colors blended, I see instead, what was used to make that color. I see the tears and agony and joys and victories it took to paint one of the thousand brush strokes.  To me every stroke has a meaning. You see it as part of the big picture’s beauty.  But when I cannot understand why a stroke was placed, I need only to remember there is a big picture and the artist, he knows why.  Every stroke is part of the masterpiece.

 

I am thankful for those of you who share perspective. We are just living it, and in living it, we do not see outside the everyday survival at times.  Thank you for your encouragement and love and grace as we walk this journey one day one “brush stroke” at a time.

 

Five months before Chris passed, on the heels of life altering surgery, I was desperate and looking for hope and perspective.  (Above is an excerpt of that.) I’d put aside passions and parts of me that I felt would hinder complete and utter devotion to caring for Chris.  I stored away and stuffed the ache and the sadness, for as long as I could.  Allowing myself moments, trying (not too successfully) to make them brief.  Aw… control… it served me well, ha, or so I thought.  Amidst the journey’s steps I have (on so many occasions) broke down, and completely lost my resolve, to be strong (on my own strength).  Having very little grace in my grief, I’ve fallen into chaotic and messy emotional places, and always get so upset with myself. After a fairly long battle, and after tears have subsided, then …. I’d finally seek God’s face and the wise counsel that came from those candles God had placed along the dark cave walls of this journey.  All I had to do is reach out… and there it was… His divine provision.

 

“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son…. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”  -Colossians 1:13, 17 (ESV)

 

“That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Colossians 2:2-3 (ESV)

 

 Now, my perspective has been narrowed some and I am looking, specifically, at the dark brushstrokes.  Deconstructing them, if you will, for perspective and to find His goodness.  These brushstrokes, left unattended, could make my whole canvas… go dark.  These brushstrokes I speak of, have screamed out for my attention for awhile now, and up to now… I have ignored them and refused to give them audience. In a sea, of over twenty years of living and life with my husband, I now choose not to continue to suppress the pain of His passing and the disappointments, so that I can just mourn….

….My death …the death of a caregiver

 

….Watching death…. stolen years.

 

….Lost and changing relationships.

 

….Not fitting in.

 

….The missing arms and lost affection.

In the coming days and weeks I resolve to explore these dark strokes on my canvas and begin the process of acknowledging their pain to finding their worth.  I believe that God can take all that is, the fallen part of man… and create in us… something good.  The goodness being… Christ in us the hope of glory.

Seeing With Christ’s Eyes

This is the second installment of Anna Smit’s personal testimony to the love and mercy of Jesus. These installments of her testimony are God’s answer to all of us who have walked a path of trauma and heartache, believing our God has abandoned us. For He has never ever forsaken us and He wants us to know it, and to see the fingerprints of the Cross – and His unending love for us – all over our lives. For the first installment see: Love Never Ends.

One of the ways God helped me to see His fingerprints over my life, was when He drew my attention to the names given to His people in the Bible and the meaning of these names. He asked me to study the meanings of my friends’ names through the years I had walked through loss and trauma, when the seeds of doubt began to root in my heart and I began to believe my accuser’s lies: that God had deserted me and left me wandering in my pain alone.

As I share what God showed me, may you too be able to look back on your life with new eyes and see His presence with you, where you couldn’t see it before. May the testimony of His faithfulness to me, in my own unfaithfulness, wrap you also in the compassion and unending mercy of our God. May He give each one of us new eyes of faith to see our life through His eyes of love and truth. May He strip away the sin that is keeping us in chains of fear, shame and unbelief, to reveal His new life and eyes of faith in us and through us.
When my parents decided to return to New Zealand, after almost six years as missionaries and church planters in Germany, it meant saying goodbye to the only place I could remember as home. On the eve of our departure, my elementary teacher gave me a goodbye present. A heart-shaped book, composed of threaded pages full of poems, messages, photos and drawings. Each classmate had created one page, but the page that is now engraved upon my memory, is my teacher’s. On her page there was a sketch of huge hands, palms wide open, holding a little sparrow.
That first year in New Zealand, I felt so out of place, with my strange accent and different way of speaking and doing things. Seeing my parents struggling with so much too, I shared very little with them, trying hard not to become an added burden to them. But God saw my need and gave me a new friend, who loved the LORD with childlike fervor.
What did her name mean?

Being a derivative of Thomas, it meant twin and “appears to be related to the Greek noun τομη (tome), meaning a cutting or cleaving, which in turn comes from the verb τεμνω (temno), meaning to cut or cleave.” (Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Thomas.html#.X7x7Hjm0s0M).
It’s only now I see how, just as with the disciple Thomas, God was inviting me to come to Him just as I was. He was inviting me to let Him cleave me unto Himself. To let Him engrave His Word upon my heart, as He beckoned me to enter into His suffering. Or as Peter puts it in 1 Peter 4:13 (ESV): “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s suffering, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
Although she only stayed for a year, God invited me through this friend to touch His nail-pierced hands and wounded side, to remember that His power is perfected in our weakness. Now, looking back, I can do so. I can rejoice that Christ found me worthy to suffer dishonor for His Name as a little girl, as I spoke up for someone who could not speak up for himself, and was turned away. Repentance for the harm that was done in that turning away came more than twenty years later, affirming God’s call all those years ago to me to speak up and to pray. All these years later God is stripping the lies of abandonment, and affirming me as His.

Visiting the birth family of the little boy that I later spoke up for. I was nine years old, when this photo was taken.

As trauma began to infect my mind, I was bathed in feelings of shame and unworthiness in my sinful turning away. Right into all that God gave me a new friend. This friend openly shared her weaknesses with me and God’s nearness to her in it all, inviting me into a deeper walk with God.
I remember my hunger and thirst for God growing. I remember moments of worship, where the Spirit of God descended powerfully, overwhelming me in kindness, gentle conviction and stunning grace. I remember the joy of my baptism at 12 years old.
But I also remember never fully being able to shake the ever returning cloak of shame in my teenage years. Now I know what lay at the root: sin. You see, I failed to pluck up the courage to confess a secret sin I felt terribly embarrassed of, a sin that kept me in chains to pain and shame. This was one of several sins I engaged in to try and numb away the pain of watching someone I loved be repeatedly harmed in the name of God. It was the sin of masturbation.
Rather than continue to bring my pain to God, I believed the lies of the enemy that the God who led me to speak up, had now abandoned me and the one I spoke up for. I couldn’t see anything change with my physical eyes and so, as I thumbed the Psalms with tears streaming, I clung to my pain as proof of God’s absence, rather than His invitation into the compassion and mercy He had for me, for the one I loved and even for those doing the harm, that they believed to be God’s will.
Praise God, as I turned away in my pain, numbing away my fears and my pain with sin, my Mum and her best friend began to pray. Seeing my confidence waning, as I retreated from life to hide behind books, they began to pray for God to restore my confidence. God heard these prayers He birthed in them, when He gifted me that dear friend, who openly boasted in her weakness to sing God’s truth over me.
While I did not continue to take up this repeated invitation into truth at the time, now, when I look back, my confidence is being restored in the faithfulness of our God in our own unfaithfulness, through this very friend. She is now proof of God’s compassion and mercy to me. Her presence in my life, reminds me that God’s mercies are new every morning. Now I know that in my struggle to come to Him, I can cry out and ask for His power to draw me to Him: not just once, but again and again.
What did her name mean?

God is an oath.
Years later, we moved towns and my father decided to send me to a non-Christian high school. Arriving in the second year at a huge city school, after four years at a little country Christian school, then still accompanied by my five brothers and sisters, and now alone, had me feeling insecure and out of place.
But even there God continued to sing His truth over me. A classmate welcomed me into her little group of friends.
What was the meaning of her name?

Bold kin or family.
God was reminding me that He is our Abba Father who boldly welcomes outsiders into His outstretched arms.
Months before this major transition and move, God also gave me another friend who would become my very best friend, and still is one of my two best friends today. Amazingly, our new home ended up being only a 5 minute bike-ride away from hers. She became one of our family and I became one of hers.
When I look back, I see God’s faithfulness to me in her friendship so much. She (and later her husband and children) never stopped loving me, welcoming me into their life and praying for me (and my family) through my long Prodigal journey home. Oh don’t get me wrong, she grieved behind closed doors and her heart struggled to understand the path I was on, but she stood by me, being God’s faithfulness to me in my unfaithfulness.
What is the meaning of my best friend’s name?

Little rock.
And what was the meaning of my elementary teacher’s name all those years earlier?

Downey one.
This is a reference to goat’s hair, a material that was once upon a time woven into the curtains of the tabernacle furnishings. A durable fabric, designed to sustain the frequent moves of the tabernacle through the wilderness. And here again, God’s hand is so beautifully present through my teacher.
In Exodus 35:26 we hear that: “all the women whose heart stirred them up in wisdom spun goats’ hair.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the Holy Spirit had stirred my teacher’s heart up to draw those hands with the sparrow all those years before. For, it’s almost as if she was spinning goat’s hair to cover and protect me, a living temple of the Holy Spirit, on the eve of my departure into the wilderness.
She was unknowingly preparing the Way for what is now becoming my calling in Christ, the meaning of my first two names, given to me in the womb.
What was the name my parents gave me?

Anna Louise.
These names mean grace and famous warrior. How can we become famous grace warriors? By receiving grace upon grace ourselves. For we love, because He first loved us.
I now see how God never stops singing the truth over us in every little detail of our life. Through every heartache, loss and trial He reminds us that, just as His eye is upon the tiniest of sparrows, His eye remains on us too. He never leaves or forsakes us.
For, He is the hand of power in our weakness. He is the hand of compassion, when we turn away in our fear and shame. He is the hand of family, our bold kin who claims us as His no matter where we go. He is the hand of truth, a rock and anchor for our slipping feet, even when we cannot see Him. And He is the One who can give us the eyes of faith to see and behold who He truly is – the faithful One – through all the trauma, pain and loss we walk through on this earth.

Come, let’s celebrate The Promise, Come, let’s celebrate the life of Jesus at work in us.
Those huge hands, palms wide open, holding that tiny sparrow are His promise to each one of us.
That He sees us and knows us. That He hems us in, from behind and before. That He lays His hand upon us (Psalm 139:5). That wherever we go, His hand guides us and His right hand holds us fast (Psalm 139:9-10). That no one can ever snatch us out of His mighty hand (John 10:29, Isaiah 43:13), out of the hand of the One who declares (Isaiah 45:5-6):
“I am the Lord, and there is no other;
apart from me there is no God.
I will strengthen you,
though you have not acknowledged me,
so that from the rising of the sun
to the place of its setting
people may know there is none besides me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other.”
As we reflect on Christ’s all-enfolding hands, His eye upon even the tiniest of sparrows, let’s invite Him to speak to us afresh today. Let’s invite Him to show us what He has in fact been singing over us all this time. Let’s ask Him to give us Christ’s eyes of faith in our need for faith.
What gifts has He been bestowing to you through the meaning of place names or the names of people on your and your loved ones’ life journeys thus far?
Father, today, we invite you to reveal Your character to us in and through our lives and the lives of our loved ones. Remind us of significant people and places in their lives and ours. Show us that no detail is insignificant. Reveal Your fingerprints to us today.
Show us how You are unveiling Your eternal Promises from Your holy and trustworthy Word in our and our loved ones’ lives. Open our mouths and fill them to overflowing with praise for the God whose eyes are ever upon His beloved creation and who never ever leaves or forsakes His own. Give us Your eyes of faith, hope and love. Help us remember that YOU see all things and all people and that when our hearts break, it’s because YOUR heart is breaking inside of us. Help us to come to You, just as we are, trusting in Your mercy, Your love and Your faithfulness to us in our unfaithfulness. In Jesus’ precious Name, Amen.

The Greatest of these is Love

Today, rather than sharing a friend’s testimony, I am sharing my Mum’s story that is woven together with my own. When we buried my Mum, I glorified her strength, perseverance and love. But in the years since saying goodbye to her, more than anything, I’ve come to realize that what I glorified her for, was Jesus at work in and through her. It was Jesus, who continually turned the hardest paths my Mum walked, into stories of beauty, through His love.

So, in sharing some of my Mum’s stories and her impact on others, my prayer is that we will not see her as someone to glorify, but rather, as someone just like us, in whom and through whom we can see the wonders of God’s love and grace for us all. I pray that through her life, you too will recognize Jesus at work in your own life, reaping a harvest of love, when and where you least expect it.

When I was little, we lived in a small town in New Zealand. My Mum led a busy life, combining study at University with (at that point in her life) three young children under the age of 4. And yet even being so busy with her own life, God opened the eyes of her heart to see and serve others in their need.

She once read about more and more young mothers taking their own life in our town. These women died from the as yet little understood illness of Postpartum Depression. My Mum’s heart ached and my Dad shared how she stayed up the whole night pouring out her heart in prayer to the LORD. The very next morning she went from door to door, getting to know the young mothers in our neighborhood. My Dad said that after that night of Mum praying, the postpartum depression related suicides in our little town suddenly stopped.

I believe, it is no accident where God places us, nor is it an accident that those in need around us are so very often in a similar life situation to ourselves. My Mum didn’t know the ravages of postpartum depression, but she knew enough about the stresses of caring for young children and the impact of depression on loved ones, that her heart bled for those young mothers and their families. Love and compassion poured forth from her, from the very heart of Jesus in her, moving her to become His very hands and feet in her town.

When I was four, my parents moved from New Zealand to Germany, answering the call of God to share the Good News with those who did not know that a personal and living relationship with God was a possibility. For the first six months, this meant my parents and their at that point four young children under six, had to live in a campervan.

One day, my Mum invited an English family of four over for dinner, after church. I remember my Dad saying that they were so surprised to find that we lived at a camping ground. What I see so much in this is how God gave my Mum such boldness in reaching out from her position of weakness. Rather than hanging out in the shame of her own family’s poverty, she pressed into God’s riches, to give to others from her place of need. And God supplied in abundance, enabling His love to flow richly.

It reminds me that I too can trust God to supply more than I could ever think to ask for or imagine. I can reach out to others, when God prompts me to, not because I am so strong and able, but because I know my God will perfect His power precisely in my weakness and inadequacy. For, it’s not by power, nor by might, but by the Spirit of the LORD that Love Himself – God – is made known, in and through us.

When I was nine years old, my parents adopted my little brother from Romania. We had traveled to Romania several times before the adoption, my Dad having organized and helped carry out various aid trips after the fall of the dictator Ceaucescu. When we took my little brother home with us, it was two weeks before we moved back permanently to New Zealand.

My Mum was exhausted from the almost six years in missions and yet returned to a town far from her own family’s support. There, in this new town, she cared for us six children, the whole household and supported my Dad, in his new stressful and taxing position as the head of a Christian high school, while also filling in as a maths teacher for the school.

When she was dying, my Mum shared of her failings in parenting my little brother. She spoke of her regrets in punishing him physically, when in hindsight, what he had needed most in that place of rebellion was someone who saw the trauma and heartache beneath. She shared of her exhaustion, of her struggle to reach his little heart and the ache she had carried for so many years.

There have been many times, I have felt deeply grieved by the many years it took for restoration to come. But God is showing me that it is all just more proof of the persevering power of His love and grace. His Word tells us that He is not slow to save, as we deem Him to be, but that His desire is that not one of us should perish. Sometimes, a longer journey is necessary to weave His masterpiece, not just in us, but others through us.

As I have poured out my grief about the years it took, God has asked me to stop looking back in pain. He has, again and again, gently reminded me to look up at Him. He has asked me to see the beauty He has forged and still is forging in and through His love and grace to us.

Now, I see the beauty God brought through my Mum’s broken and contrite heart. And I even see the beauty He brought through the unfulfilled ache my Mum carried for so many years. My mother didn’t stay in a place of regret for the many years she was caught in blindness herself, but rather, by God’s great grace and His loving Word to her, she moved forward.

She sought and received my little brother’s forgiveness and God’s call to pray fervently for all the incomplete stories that made her heart ache. And I believe her hidden prayers, prompted by the heart of Jesus in her, are still being unveiled now, almost seven years later.

Looking back, I can now see that God’s timing in opening my Mum’s eyes to see what she couldn’t when I was little, was impeccable. I may share more about that another time. And all the years Mum’s heart ached in her blindness, God used for good. For, His love and grace continued to flow through my Mum, as it does through all of us in our seeing but in part and not in full.

In her search to better understand my little brother, my Mum reached out to love and care for numerous other little children that others couldn’t cope with. She was known as the preschool teacher to give the “difficult kids” to. And she was also known for coming alongside the parents of these “difficult” kids. Often these parents, many single-Moms, were going through really hard things themselves.

My Mum went from being a student Mum, to a missionary and pastor’s wife, to a high school teacher, to studying to become a preschool teacher in her later life. As she told my Dad, she began to understand that the early development of children is so crucial to their later development. Not surprisingly, she then progressed to studying counseling, realizing that many of the children she saw struggling had parents who were struggling too. Perhaps, she also began to recognize the support she too had needed as a struggling Mum back in New Zealand.

I have no doubt that the ache in her heart from her experiences with my little brother drove her to give love in places she never would have otherwise gone. I believe this ache compelled her to love children and parents the world had turned their back on.

God opened my Mum’s eyes to see my little brother’s rebellion with new eyes in her final months on earth. She wept and wept watching films of children who went through similar trauma to my little brother, who spent his first fifteen months in an orphanage, being given up mere days after his birth.

She shared how her counseling course exposed her to these videos, the very counseling course she had chosen to do to help others. But when she received her diploma in her final months on earth, she shared how she hadn’t realized how much healing her own heart had needed. But I believe God always did.

Beautifully the brain cancer she suffered from in her final months, took away her social filter and in fact helped her to speak up boldly and seek restoration. My little brother’s heart opened wide to receive the grace he had so longed for. And he in turn extended it to my Mum also, in great thankfulness to God.

God worked most powerfully in and through my Mum, when she was at her weakest. Even as she lay dying, unable to speak, eat or even wink, love poured out of her, through the palpable peace of God covering her, as I shared in my testimony last week. And I was not the only one to feel it or be blessed by it.

As God went about healing my Mum’s heart in quiet and unseen ways, He was also busy healing others through her and He continues to do so today: through her very much living testimony to His love and grace.

It shows me that when we give our lives to Jesus, it’s no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in and through us. Through us sinful and broken people who only see but in part on this earth. Christ’s life and love continually flows into and out of us, in ways I don’t think we will fully comprehend until heaven. But isn’t this foretaste already so glorious!

There are so many other stories I could share from my Mum’s 59 years on this earth, but I will end with a quote from a friend of ours, a quote my Dad chose to have engraved on my Mum’s tombstone. This man said of my Mum: “When you were with Margaret, you knew you were loved.”

Surely, as God’s Word tells us: the greatest of these is love. And who is love, but God Himself. The God who never stops pouring Himself into and out of us.

In His love, He makes something beautiful of each of our lives:

Love Never Ends

 

I have decided to only publish this week’s blog in audio format. I sensed the importance of us (me also) needing to “hear” the testimony and the Word of our Lord to be transformed by it. This week I invite you to listen to the story of how Jesus came to rescue and carry me, His lost sheep, home, while contemplating His hand upon your own life too. At the end you are invited to listen to a reading of Scripture. Through the reading, I invite our Heavenly Father to soak us all in His Word and to slow our hearts to listen to and obey His fresh and very personal Word to us.

Here a few quotes to encourage you to listen for yourself:

I feel the nearness of a God I do not know. Here is a gentle, compassionate Father stooping down to wrap me in Himself. A God who sees my heaving heart beneath, all the waves of pain and fear and shame I cannot breathe. And He breathes for me: “I see you. I know you. I love you.” . . .

These monthly installments of my testimony are not just God’s answer to this deeper desire He gave me, but His answer to all of us. To all of us who have walked a path of trauma and heartache, believing our God has abandoned us. For He has never ever forsaken us and He wants us to know it, and to see the fingerprints of the Cross – and His unending love for us – all over our lives.

 

May your hearts be blessed!

 

 

My Mum and I in Salzburg, the year I gave my heart to the LORD and also the year my parents moved from New Zealand to Germany, with four little kids in tow, to share the love of Jesus with those the LORD called them to.

 

May these Scriptures and songs encourage your heart today, drawing you into the Presence of the God who is love, never-ending Love:

 

 

2 Samuel 7: 22 – 23 KJV

For thy word’s sake, and according to thine own heart, hast thou done all these great things, to make thy servant know them.

Wherefore thou art great, O Lord God: for there is none like thee, neither is there any God beside thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears.