Part 5: Chapter 2 – Day 6: I Lift Up My Whole Heart

Welcome to Day 6 of Part 5‘s Chapter 2 of Arise and Shine. Today, Anna is bringing forward the sixth free will offering of purple thread (royal compassion)

This morning, I woke up with this song on my heart:

I had gone to sleep pondering Bettie’s dream and this poem I had originally written in response to the d’Verse prompt.

See not your failing 
See my wind blowing
Each point of collision
A lifting
Divinely appointed
To winnow the seed
In husks beautifully
Hidden, bursting forth
Through the breach
Long opened in my
Body broken to heal
Your every division.

As I pondered the babies of pain Bettie had clasped tightly to her chest, and God has been inviting her to release into His arms, God opened my eyes to see something so beautiful that the above song only affirmed in my heart.

When we pray for those we love and that praying leads to God separating us from each other, it’s so easy to cling to the enemy’s accusations. It’s so easy to see that purposed collision and division as our or the other’s failing. But what if it is in fact God’s victory and deliverance of our hearts and souls?

Pain entered our world when sin did. Sin was born when we humans chose to put our faith and trust in fear (our accuser), rather than in love (our deliverer). It’s then our hearts that were once united became divided.

Our deliverance from sin and death came to earth, when Jesus willingly chose to enter into the pain of our division (sin) to give us His undivided heart of love in exchange. Being the gentleman He is, Jesus doesn’t force us to receive this deliverance. But being our Father, He does allow things to take place to confront us and uncover our need for Him.

As we are forced to concede our lack of control, in His confronting, we are invited into the gift of receiving God’s sovereign plan and purpose for us. And as we choose to receive that gift, He wields His Word in and through us to lift off the burdens that were never ours to carry.

So often we don’t even realize that we are taking on burdens that aren’t ours to carry: that’s where illness can actually be a gift in disguise. I can now see how God has used Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to define His boundaries for me, as He has lifted off so much weight that was never mine to carry. 

He’s used this disorder to force me to confront what in the past I never would have. I would have just kept my mouth shut and kept pleasing and placating, sowing unto the flesh instead of unto the Spirit. But now the triggers stop me from doing so. For, each trigger alerts me to a division in my heart and compels me to seek God’s will for me, as I quiet my soul before Him to listen.

These times of seeking Him – through prayer, reading the Word and/or fasting – have so often led me to open my mouth and speak the truth to those I love. They have led to me choosing love (collision) over fear (hiding). Beautifully this has brought such sweet intimacy with those closest to me, as it has lifted away the husk that was keeping us apart. While with others, it has led me to releasing burdens that were not mine to carry, as God has uncovered idolatry in my heart.

Either I was bowing before others as if they were God to remain acceptable to them. Or I was setting myself up as an idol for others, as I was making them dependent upon me, rather than upon God.

These collisions with others caused me to seek God’s will, as He lifted away the husk to reveal the beauty of His undivided and whole heart in me.

A verse that has kept reverberating in me the past few weeks is:

And suddenly, as I sat to pen this piece I understood why. Jesus physically left those He loved also. Why? Not to cause them grief, but to give them something so much better: the gift of His Holy Spirit to take them by the hand and lead them into the truth, piece by piece by piece.

As I sat with that Promise God gave His disciples, I realized what He was saying to me. Every time He has asked me to separate myself from others, it was because He wanted each of us to ask that same question: where is Jesus going? And to receive the gift of His Holy Spirit’s leading in doing so.

God wanted us to receive something so much better than our idolatrous friendship with each other: the comfort and guidance of His Holy Spirit and an undivided heart of love for each other. A love that does not insist upon its own way, but gives each person free will.

When we make others dependent upon us, we take away their free will. Likewise, when people or even religious communities require us to think as they do to belong in their midst, they are also making us dependent upon their fleshly leading and taking away our free will to come to know Jesus ourselves, through His Holy Spirit.

But God never takes away our free will. For, love never insists upon its own way. Why? Because love – God – wants us to love Him from a whole and undivided heart. He doesn’t want us to love Him because we are terrified of Him. He doesn’t want us to love Him because we want to impress Him. He doesn’t want us to love Him because we are afraid He will reject us if we don’t. He doesn’t want us to love Him out of a sense of duty or to do the “right” thing.

No! That is not love! That is fear at work. That is us listening to the enemy’s accusations against us. God wants us to love Him because we have come to know Him in a personal and intimate way and because He has proven Himself to us, as we have come to realize just how deeply He loves us.

And that relationship of love can only grow, as God lifts away everyone and everything we are enslaving ourselves to and everyone we are enslaving to ourselves. Why? Because only then can we and others see Jesus for who He truly is.

Only then can we receive His pure and unadultered love for us and for others. Only then can we love Him with our whole heart – His undivided heart of love beating inside each one of us. Only then will we begin to join Him in His suffering for His children.

Compassion is giving others the gift of coming to know Jesus, by giving them the free will to choose their own path. Even if that path makes our heart hurt and leads our loved ones into suffering. Can we not warn them? Of course we can – and in fact God commands us to do so. But when they choose not to listen, we are to release them into His hands.

For, ultimately God uses those very moments of surrender not just to uncover His deep love to our loved ones and His steadfast faithfulness to them – but also to us, as He teaches us to see by faith and not sight. Only the Holy Spirit can awaken us to God’s Way of love, truth and grace. And that can only happen as we choose to get out the way, when God commands us to.

And that painful Way His Spirit leads them down might in fact collide with our human and fleshly reasoning. When we want to protect ourselves and our loved ones from pain, God wants us to join Him in His suffering to see His Kingdom come: to see His children coming home because they have come to know His deep, deep love for them. Not because they are scared of us, want to please us or because they feel they owe us.

Only Jesus can free us to lift up our whole hearts to Him. Why? Because that whole and undivided heart in us is in fact His. It is the seed of Jesus in us that is beautifully hidden until the wind of His Holy Spirit begins to blow. Until God leads us into purposed collisions. Until He begins to winnow the beauty of Himself hiding in each one of us. A beauty He uncovers, as He invites us to join Him in His suffering for His children. As He invites us to join Him in prayer and watch His power be perfected in our weakness and our surrender to His much better plan and purpose for us and those we love.

If you want a beautiful example of this process of winnowing, I would encourage you to follow my friend Debbie’s blog and read of God’s continual call to her to surrender her adopted son Roma into His hands and to discover His deep deep compassion for her son, and for her: His decision to enter into their suffering and to lift off the heavy burdens they were each carrying. His decision to harvest the seed of Jesus in them.

Oh may Jesus empower us to join Him in His suffering, to surrender our thoughts and plans for His much higher thoughts and purposes for us and our loved ones. And may the Holy Spirit comfort us through the pain of each surrender, continually reminding us that those who sow in tears reap with joy. Much joy!

Part 3: Chapter 4 – Day 7: A Lamp for our Feet

Welcome to Day 7 of Part 3‘s Chapter 4 of Arise and Shine. Today, Bettie is bringing forward our final free will offering for Chapter 4: The Golden Lampstand- The Lamb of God. She is sharing Chapter 1 of her and her husband Barry’s book “Our Story: A Ministry of Abiding” that she is currently publishing monthly on her blog – bettiegsraseasons.com Each chapter records their journey of transformation, as Christ continually compels them to surrender their thoughts and plans for His.

I so encourage you to follow along and be lovingly comforted and lifted up in the LORD, as you too choose to lay down your thoughts and plans for Christ’s. Come, let’s walk in His holy Way for us and stand in awe of where His lamp leads our feet to tread. He shall bring His purposes to pass for His glory and renown. Praise Him!

You can also listen to Barry and Bettie read this free will offering aloud in the audio version provided below.

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105 (ESV)

We met at church, where I was viewed as the “Churchy-Girl” type. He was new to this Christian living, and his enthusiasm and love for Jesus swept me off my feet long before I fell in love with his heart.

I had already been teaching young children, ever since my close friend’s mom asked me to help her with the kindergarten age Sunday-School class. When she asked me to start telling the Bible stories, I was forever captivated by the wonder that is in a child’s heart. And when this new-to-Christianity-young-man volunteered to help tell those same children the Bible stories, I was even more attracted to him. How could someone who was so new to all this, who couldn’t even pronounce so many of the Biblical names, stir up such excitement in the children to learn about Jesus? His love for the Lord, and His eagerness to share that love, was contagious.

God stepped in and wrote our love story for us, and we were married only a year and a half after we had met. I was barely 18, and he was not yet 20, when we heard God’s call. Even though it was so hard to say good-bye to our families, we packed up our little U-haul and started our married life by moving from Indiana to Minneapolis. My husband had begun the process to attend Bible College there. 

Dear friends had allowed us to move into the large duplex where their elderly Grandmother lived upstairs. She needed someone to watch over her, even though she was resistant to having help. We realized that we would have to devise ways to clean her home without her becoming upset. When we found out that she loved to listen to the Bible being read to her, my husband would read to her in the front room, and I would creep quietly up the back stairs to clean that portion of her home. 

Her hearing and vision loss proved to be a benefit then, as I could signal to my husband, and he would suggest that they move to the kitchen where the lighting was better. Then I would go around to the front entrance and clean the area they had just left. This dear Norwegian woman was so blessed with my husband’s reading, but we were so blessed to hear her sweet voice of appreciation. We didn’t know that when we thought we were being prepared to enter Bible School for the “official ministry,” God was already teaching us what TRUE Ministry would look like. The smiling wrinkly face of that dear woman is forever etched into my memory.

But when she fell and broke her hip while we were at work, the family agreed with us that she needed more constant care. Just at that time of change, a new opportunity opened up before us. The church where my husband had become the janitor told us they needed a live-in caretaker. We hadn’t even realized that there was a 2-bedroom apartment tucked into the upper level of the education wing of this historic church. So we became the caretakers, janitors, and Children’s Church leaders at this inner-city church within the same month that my husband began his classes at college. Our lives suddenly became a whirlwind of activity.

The Children’s Church was small and gave us plenty of opportunities to put into practice some of the new lessons my husband was being taught in his Christian Education classes. We made wonderful new friends who joined us as we found and created object lessons, puppet shows, and Scripture lessons. 

Our oldest son was born while we lived there, and he was a part of everything we were involved with: nursery during church services, kicking up a storm in his jumper while we cleaned the hallways, and charming all the little girls who came to visit us in our apartment down the hall from their Sunday-School classrooms. But after two years of living at such a heavy pace, we began to feel the strain. Our marriage went through the fire as the new bonds of love were tested. 

As we prayed about what to do, again the Lord led us to Scriptures for our answers:

Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves. Psalm 127:1-2 NIV

When we shared those Scriptures with the church leadership and said that we felt God was preparing us to begin to make a move soon, they returned with a notice to be moved out in one month. When we thought we had found a supportive church who would understand about God’s guiding, they thought they had been betrayed by their loyal workers.

Our first time of breaking left us shaken and unsure of where we would go. Friends had told us we could move into their basement, but on the final week of the month, an apartment opened up on the other side of town, in St. Paul. My life was about to take on a deeper surrender, as I heard God asking me to be willing to support my husband, and to go back to work. I had enjoyed working with him while we were caretakers and janitors, even though the hours were grueling. How could God ask me to leave behind my “church work” to enter back into secretarial jobs, and leave my baby in the care of someone else?

Has your perspective of ministry and surrender been shaken recently? 

Does it seem that God has asked you to do the very thing you thought you could never do? 

Perhaps, He wants to show you where His heart is bigger than yours has been. 

Could you join us in praying today?

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank You for shining Your glorious light, the face of our Lord Jesus, onto the deepest places of our hearts. We confess that sometimes we are shocked at the darkness and striving You uncover in us there. OH, but how grateful we are that Your mercy washes us clean as we lay that very striving before You. 

Gracious Father, will You receive these offerings of surrender that are laid on the altar now? Our humbled hearts long for the light of Your Son to awaken us here.  And as we are awakened by Your light, we are amazed by the freedom You have won for us. Our praises are wafting before You, joining in Holy Spirit breath now bursting forth from our lungs. Hallelujah to our Savior above!

In the name of Your Son, Jesus, we pray,

Amen.

Part 3: Chapter 1 – Day 7: Sunrise in Vietnam

Welcome to Day 7 of Part 3‘s Chapter 1 of Arise and Shine. Today, Bettie is sharing our final free will offering of incense that she penned in 2016. It is a powerful story of Christ’s intercession at work in her, taking us all on a journey into the heart of God for the beautiful people living in Vietnam.

We pray that your hearts are being so encouraged to continue pressing into Jesus, to see His incense rise in intercession in and through you. Our own hearts are being so encouraged also in sharing old and new testimonies. May praise and worship rise in each one of our hearts and be on our lips as we bow in awe of our mighty God who always lives to make intercession for each one of His children, who never leave His safe hand. May we recognize His face and Presence waiting to be uncovered in those He sets before us and moves us to intercede for.

How did I get to be in that incredible place?  And why am I telling this story now, in the middle of this RA/Fibromyalgia Season of re-learning my place?

Another word-sharing-session with my counselor brought me to the place of remembering.  I told her that I still wanted to be up and doing and walking away my anxieties. I am not finding the PEACE here that I thought I should have attained by now.  So my Counselor asked if I could take a walk through the memory hall of my mind.  The same emotions that were triggered during the actual pleasant times can be triggered again, proven by studies, simply when we remember those times.

Shortly after she proposed a time of remembering, a new Blog-Friend of mine found out that I had taken a God-Planned-Adventure to Vietnam, and she stirred up these very memories when she shared her own Adventures.  Thank you Valerie, at gracewithsilk  for asking to hear about my story!  So today I am walking over the land that a healthier and stronger me was allowed to witness.

I was probably 17 or 18 years old when I had a vision while I was praying. I saw myself in an Asian Village, being so thankful to share in a love that was God-given.  I assumed I would be a Missionary. But my life took a different turn, and decades later, as a stay-at-home Mom, I found myself wrapped up in the story of my Pastor and his Wife, trying to adopt a baby from Cambodia. 

I prayed and agonized with them through a very long and difficult adoption process.  When they returned with their beautiful baby boy, I sat amazed by the pictures in their slideshow.  It looked like the Asian Village in my vision from so long ago.  Tears rolled down my face, as I felt the Lord say that I had been in that village with them through my praying.  Ahh beautiful, I thought.  Now I know why I had that vision. End of Story.

But God’s endings are not the same as ours.  Another decade later, and this time our oldest son took a trip to Vietnam with his new friend.  We didn’t know that a possible marriage with his friend’s sister was in the itinerary.  But again, Jesus finds ways to let a Mama know how to pray.  On the very night of the marriage, half-way around the world, my heart was burdened to pray for my children’s spouses, with an urgency like never before.  So when our son came home and asked us to pray with him so that his new wife could get a VISA to come to America, my heart had already been prepared.

Sunrise over a small village in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam.

Years of praying, and crying, and waiting were finally answered in the spring of 2011, when her VISA was approved.  When we finally met our new daughter-in-law, loving her was easy because my heart had been captivated before she ever set foot in America.

So when she asked me to go with her back to Vietnam for a Family Reunion Party later that fall, I thought my heart would burst.

Breakfast time in Vietnam means noodle soup (not cereal) and tea (not coffee.)
A trip to the market across the street from the family’s house happened daily. Even when I thought I would lose my way, my daughter-in-law held my hand and treated me with honor, so that I knew I was in the safest place I could be.
This Grandma, (51 at the time,) managed to stumble into the flat-bottomed boat for a ride down the river. When God calls out the Adventure, we never know where He will lead us.  As a 17 year old, looking for a future of purpose, I thought I knew what LOVE looked like.  I thought I would be the one teaching those around me what God’s Love looks like.  But HE is the teacher, and HE knows how to plan the future that will bring about HIS Beauty in every place HE leads us.
Sometimes Beauty looks like a small table, child-sized by American standards, set with simple fruit, prepared by the hands of a family that speak a language you cannot understand, opening their hearts for LOVE to be shared.

My journeys now feel large when I can take a day-trip involving a 3 or 4 hour car ride.  But my times for Adventure are not finished.  When I let Jesus plan my journey, whether through chronic illness or healthy travels, HE will set my feet in the good place of HIS choosing: Finding BEAUTY and LOVE each step of the way.

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus”

Ephesians 3:20-21

First published at: https://bettiegsraseasons.com/2016/05/18/sunrise-in-vietnam/

Chapter 2: Day 4 – In Returning and Rest

Welcome to Day 4 of Chapter 2 from Arise and Shine. Today, Anna is sharing a devotional (a poem, story and prayer) centered on Scriptures that the LORD is continuing to take deeper into her own heart.

Since I was little, I have loved to help others. As the oldest daughter in a family of six children, I had ample opportunity to help out. I took great pride in my “mothering responsibilities”, as I took it upon myself to help my Mum out, particularly with looking after my youngest brother and sister, to give my busy Mum, who also carried many responsibilities outside of our home, a break and allow her to get other things done.

There is beauty in the gift of helping and serving others, but what God has opened my eyes to, is that serving can become an idol that begins to gong like a cymbal, where the lines of responsibility become blurry. A few weeks before my Mum died, she looked at me and said something like: “Anna, I was a bad example to you girls. I had no boundaries in place. Don’t follow my example.” Now, don’t get me wrong. My Mum was one of the most loving people I know, but now that God has broken the idol I made of her, I see what my Mum meant. There were indeed times, where she too became like a gonging cymbal and these were times that she took on responsibility that was not hers to shoulder.

When I began to see this idol present in my own life, God encouraged me, not to try to “fix” it myself, but to lay the responsibility for my transformation in His hands. But as I began to do so, He began to fence me in, more and more.

Again and again, He had me build up something, only to ask me to lay it back down soon after. Again and again, He had me invest in people, communities and ministries, only to then ask me to leave and surrender everyone and everything into His hands.

Through these first few breakings and surrenders, it felt like God was punishing me. It felt like He was taking away things and people from me because I wasn’t “good enough” to stay and to serve in these places. But ever so slowly, I am beginning to see this fencing in of God, as His precious gift of rest in pleasant places.

A photo I took on a recent bike ride in response to God’s call to me to come away with Him to rest. A bike ride that had me weeping, as I felt God overwhelm me in His love for me.

It has been His Way of growing me in grace and truth, of teaching me to walk within His safe boundaries. For, after each breaking, I slowly began to see that each surrender was drawing me into a deeper and deeper rest, and a shedding of responsibilities for others that were never mine to carry.

I am now seeing how the Word God spoke over me at the start of all this shedding and burning away, is now reaping so much fruit in my life:

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;

    you make my lot secure.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;

    surely I have a delightful inheritance.

Psalm 16: 5 – 6 (NIV)

The funny thing though, is that God has been fulfilling this Word, by showing me that I am incapable of making Him alone my portion and my cup. Maybe, you too recognize your inability in this department. If so, maybe this next verse has also been a painful verse for you too, because like me, you recognize yourself as being the “unwilling” one God speaks of.

Maybe you too recognize your past failures to return and rest and to sit in quietness and trust. But what God has been showing me, is that He knows I cannot set good boundaries for myself and that I cannot rest and be still in and of myself, that I actually do not know how to make Him alone my portion and cup.

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling,

Isaiah 30:15 (ESV)

He showed me that this is yet another reason why He sent Jesus to die on the Cross for me, so that He could take up residence in me and teach me how to walk within His pleasant boundaries. And what I am noticing, is that when I ask Him to set those boundaries for me, in response to His leading, He is so very faithful to do so and oh the joy and peace and love that flows from a heart that rests in these pleasant places with Jesus.

Just yesterday, I yet again, found myself in a place, where God showed me I had become like a gonging cymbal, because I had chosen to take on responsibility that was not mine to carry. In this case, it was the opinions of others – the fear that I would be blamed for the choices of others, over whom I carried leadership responsibilities. This fear of man was rooted in me not recognizing God’s ultimate sovereignty. In me not recognizing His ultimate responsibility over the gifts He has entrusted me to carry out in His Name.

And this fear drove me to take on a responsibility for the behavior of others and to snap, rather than flow from a position of resting in God’s love. As the fear grew inside of me, so did the assumptions I began to make of others and their behavior and so did my snapping.

But then, God in His kindness, placed me before an elderly women who began to boast in her weakness, who spoke of having forgotten her mask and now having to bike back home to collect it. The gentleness of God shone so brightly from her face and as I shared of having had the same thing happen before also, I felt God slow my heart to the pace of His own.

It’s then I reached out to apologize to someone I had been snapping at moments earlier, someone who I had made incorrect assumptions about, in my haste, driven by fear. I also noticed how that snapping came, after I had felt a gentle nudge from God to take a break, but rather than do so, I had kept going.

And so, as that conviction and repentance flowed from the grace of God, I also recognized I needed God’s help with boundaries in another part of my life. So, I turned to Him and asked Him to be my boundary lines in that space also.

You see, recently I have stepped out in faith with something new and I was reminded that I need God to time the unfolding of this new responsibility, step by step, so that it doesn’t encroach on other responsibilities He has given me. So, I asked Him to time its unfolding, also so I can finish something else well that is in its final weeks.

As I did so, I found myself rejoicing over even the simple conversation this new ministry had brought yesterday. I recognized how refreshing it was to pour into a young woman, without laying any expectations on the outcome of our contact. As I shed the responsibility for this contact’s unfolding, my peace and joy increased, as I recognized how even if it comes to nothing, the conversation alone was such a gift to me.

God has truly been shedding the old and uncovering the true desires of His heart within me, desires that draw me into His heart of surrender, love, gentleness and kindness. He has been lifting the weight of so many responsibilities.

God so patiently grows our hearts to steward well the gifts He has entrusted us, by teaching us how to rest in His authority and guidance, moment by moment. By God’s grace I have definitely come a long way, and yet I also recognize room for so much more growth. I am so excited to see how He enlarges my heart even more in the coming months to run in the path of His commands and I pray you are too. For our LORD is so very faithful.

Father God, I thank You for the gift of Your Son. I thank You that You have shed abroad Your love in our hearts, through the gift of Your Holy Spirit, who is now guiding us into all the truth, for we know that the Holy Spirit does not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to us the things that are to come (John 16:13).

Thank You that You promise us that “so shall [Your] word be that goes out from [Your] mouth; it shall not return to [You] empty, but it shall accomplish that which [You] purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which [You] sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11, ESV). Thank You for fencing and hemming us in, even when You knew we would not understand it at first and see it as Your punishment of us. Thank You for Your loving discipline and great patience with us. Father, help us, through each fencing in, through each closing door and breaking, to trust Your heart of love toward us.

Yield our hearts to Your discipline and cause us to bring forward the pure white linen of Your Son that You might clothe us in the garments reserved for those who overcome in Your Name. For, “Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:5, ESV) And so, this very moment we acknowledge that we cannot overcome the world in our own strength, that we cannot make You alone our portion and our cup, without Your teaching, leading and guidance. And so, we let go of our striving and ask You now to clothe us in Your purity. We ask You to fulfill the Promises of Your Word to us.

Today, we like King David, declare by faith that “Lord, you alone are [our] portion and [our] cup; you make [our] lot secure.The boundary lines have fallen for [us] in pleasant places; surely [we] have a delightful inheritance.” (Psalm 16: 5-6, NIV). We declare by faith that we shall see the fulfillment of this Word in our lives. Be our boundary lines, oh LORD and reveal the pleasant places of Your choosing for us, where our hearts can rest in Your heart of love, gentleness and kindness.

Shut the doors that need shutting. Open the doors that need opening and teach us how to yield our will to Yours that we may live from a position of rest, flowing in Your love. LORD be the One who serves and loves through us, by the power of Your Holy Spirit and Word of life. Continue to break our idols of responsibility that shackle us to fear and sin. Cause our hearts to return and rest in You and to dwell in quietness and trust in You.

And as we read through this poem that You gifted me (Anna) so long ago, bring such joy and peace to our hearts in the knowledge that You are so very faithful to teach us how to seek after Your heart above all else and how to rest at Your feet. Help us to let go of any shame we feel because of our past failings and to walk into the newness of life You are holding out to us. Help us also to receive Your patience with us, to see ourselves as Your children who You are so proud of, who You are teaching step by step. Help us to see and celebrate all the ways we have already grown to rest in You. Thank You that we are so blessed in You. In Jesus’s precious Name, Amen.

SEEK MY HEART

Blessed are those
Who listen and heed
Come close,
And sit at My feet.

Blessed are those
Who know how to rest,
To abide and draw
Upon who I AM.

Blessed are those
Who heed not praise
Of men,
But seek My heart for them.
Listen My daughter well
To these words of love -

Be still, and know
Even now, even here,
I sit beside,
And hold your hand.

Do you hear angels sing,
Choirs to My glory?
Rush of waterfall
Pouring down upon you?

See all shackling silt
Coming loose
Purity revealed in
Sea blue deep

Finding Life in Death

In honor of Mother’s Day and God’s gift of life, Anna asked her friend, Debbie, to (re)share her story of adoption, the earthly loss of her precious son and of finding life in death. This interview, for Wendy Simpson’s and Anna Smit’s joint blogging series Breaking Light, took place five years ago, but has been updated by Debbie recently. It ends with a prayer, written by the steward of this blog, Anna Smit.

Roma and Debbie

In these five years, Debbie and her husband, Bruce, have since moved from suburban Maryland to West Virginia. They see their three remaining children and ten grandchildren as often as they can. A sequel to her first book, But the Greatest of These Is Love, has begun in serial form with installments added each week. Follow her at her blog at Consider It All Joy for updates. 

1. Of all the characters in the Bible, who do you most relate to and why?  

I think Moses’ protest sounds familiar. “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13) I’ve said that too.

But lately I feel like Paul. Before his ministry, he thought he knew God. As a Pharisee, Paul arrogantly thought he was doing the work of God, getting rid of those pesky Christians. Then, in a sudden revelation, he KNEW Jesus. My journey into deeper faith felt that sudden. That could only have been achieved by the work of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t go looking for it. My “Damascus Road” experience changed forever my intimacy with God. It was like the scales fell off my eyes. 

And for all the efforts Paul made for the Kingdom, writing letters to encourage the new Church, trying to make God known to others, his confessions sound a lot like mine. 

“[…] I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out, I don’t do the good I want, but the evil I hate is what I keep on doing. Romans 7:18-19

Paul mourns of a “thorn” in his flesh that he cannot be free of.  God’s response? His Grace is sufficient. There will always be thorns, and God keeps reminding Paul, and me, how very much we need a Savior. 

2. What is one of your favorite Scriptures and why does it mean so much to you?

Matthew 16:24-25  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life  will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.'” NIV (bold and italics, mine.)

This is language we do not like to use.

Sixteen years ago, I half-heartedly participated in a small group study, Experiencing God. One morning while doing my homework, that verse jumped off the page at me. And it terrified me, because I instinctively knew God was going to demand something hard of me, something akin to “death” of my altar of Self.

God loves us too much to leave us where we are. The world tells us to celebrate ourselves, and to love who we are, that we deserve the best. Jesus’ words, however, demand radical change. God doesn’t want to compete with anything; He wants ALL of us, especially the parts we cling to.  For me, it was (and often still is) my god of Comfort. My easy life was put on the scales with my relationship with God. 

This theme of surrender is Jesus most repeated theme in the Gospels. To name a few more with this mandate of dying to Self: Matthew 10:39, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, Luke 17:33, John 12:24. There are others. It must be very important.

One of my favorite writers is C.S. Lewis. I love how he shares his journey from intellectual disbelief to finally knowing the Truth of Christ. In Mere Christianity, Lewis has captured this concept of surrender, this “dying to Self” beautifully, from Jesus’ point of view. 

“Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it.  No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self—in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.”


3. What events, circumstances or struggles in your life have been and/or continue to be your deepest valleys? 4. In what ways have you experienced God’s nearness in these valleys? I’ve combined these two questions, because of continuity of my telling the story.

My journey to deeper faith began in 2000, with a sudden, surprising invitation, a whisper from God which shattered my comfortable life. As I write this, I recognize this was a “death” so I could be born again. How could I say no to God and stay connected to Him? That lonely valley of trying to say no to God lasted a year and a half.  

During that valley God revealed Himself to me in shocking and unmistakable ways.  He came with that theme of dying to self I had recently read in Matthew.  When presented with God’s plan, I was not so sure I wanted to be a disciple at all! God came making an seemingly impossible demand of me and I wanted Him to chose someone else. I endured a hard season of offering God suggestions of what I was willing to sacrifice in place of what He was asking me. But God would have none of my puny offers. He wanted all of me. He wanted my complete surrender. His command was that I must deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Him.  But where He wanted to lead, I did not want to follow. 

What invitation did God whisper to my unreceptive heart? Adoption. 

It was a horrifying idea to me, as a happy wife and proud mother of three with a comfortable life. My life was perfect, too perfect to disrupt.

As the shocking theme of “adoption” morphed into an even more terrifying theme of  “adoption of an older Russian boy,” I wrestled with God over His unlikely and unwelcomed proposal. This valley became a season of preparation, when God revealed Himself to me in ways that strengthened my faith, and set me on a path toward Him, one tiny, hesitant step at a time.  

In 2002, armed with a mustard-seed of faith, God led us to  Russia to bring home beautiful, lively, seven-year-old Roma.  It soon became apparent that this little boy, this gift I tried to reject, was an extravagant reward for my meager obedience. We congratulated ourselves for saving this precious little boy. We couldn’t know how God would transform our faith using Roma. 

Roma

In the next season of  my life, my joy was complete. My family and friends had embraced little Roma from the beginning and watched him grow into a confident, charming young man. My faith was deep. And all was well in my world. 

In 2013, I sensed God dramatically moving in my life again. This time God’s movement came with a premonition of suffering. Dread and a hyper awareness of God was my paradoxical response. I knew whatever was in my future, I must cling to God. I thanked Him that this time I trusted Him without reservation.

In 2014,  my sweet, lovable Roma headed down a dark road of alcohol and marijuana abuse. But even in that valley, God was always close, and I experienced God’s grace in hair raising ways. And right before the challenges went into high gear,  I was told in a dream to “write it all down.” (Read the Hound of Heaven Winks to begin that miraculous series of posts.)

Every challenge we faced, I thanked God for the premonitions He had given me, because I was not caught off guard by surprise. Each time I was thankful, because the consequences of Roma’s rebellion weren’t too terrible. I kept telling myself, “This could be so much worse.” I thanked God for protecting Roma and revealing Himself to many of us, including Roma, who were watching the God Stories unfold.

But the foreboding continued. Roma wandered away from our family again in the middle months of 2015. I was powerless to change him. I had to turn him over to God. My friends worried that I wasn’t worried.  But if I truly believed what I claimed to believe, I wasn’t supposed to worry. I had put Roma in the loving and capable Hands of our Father God. “God loves Roma more than I do,” I would remind myself and others. But oh how I loved that boy! My peace was real, and those who doubted began to trust too. 

Then, finally, in October of 2015, the Prodigal Son returned. He was repentant, he sought God and mercy. We spent time talking honestly about God. Roma had a hunger for Him that was brand new. He was a joy to be around again. 

After seven joy filled weeks with our transformed son, on December 7, Roma died from a work accident, a fall from a ladder while working on a roof.  When the heartbreaking news came, I was hardly surprised. God had so lovingly and thoroughly warned me to be prepared. If God had warned me, He had known ahead of time. I had to believe Roma’s death was part of God’s Divine timing. 

5. In what ways have you seen God minister to others through your deep valleys?

In that protective fog of the first days, I was showered with Divine Love. And miracles. The veil has been thin between Heaven and earth at times. As devastated as I was, and still am, I trust God. Heartsick friends and neighbors witnessed the peace we had. And the miracles. In the middle of our collective pain, we were in awe of God’s great love.

Although I think social media is Satan’s tool, God can use it for good. On my sites, I tried to continue pointing people to God in our circumstances, because He was so real to me in that dark valley. Soon friends were listening intently or reading with eagerness, the stories I share of God’s Nearness in the midst of our pain. 

When our concerned friends rallied around us after Roma died, they saw that God had given us strength and sincere faith. I had faced the hard question, “Did I believe that God is really who He said He is? And did I believe Heaven was a real place?” If so, I would miss Roma earthly presence, but not despair over his absence. I would also have to celebrate that Roma was indeed free and with God in Heaven. I learned those first few days that God can be trusted. And, at least some were comforted, as I could confidently point to God with gratitude.

6. How have you seen God build community through your deepest valleys?
Oh yes! Our loss was everyone’s loss. God sent Roma to not only my family but to the whole community, and beyond. God knew this honor of raising Roma was way too big for the Michael family alone. We would need helpers. LOTS of helpers! To aid in the recruitment of many helpers, God had armed young Roma with a BIG hearted personality, a sweet deposition, disarming smile, and fabled charisma. And oh, those sparkly green eyes. 

Yes, the helpers came over the years.  Neighbors, teachers, coaches, teammates, friends, mothers and fathers of friends. All assisted us in the joyful task of raising Roma. They loved this boy sent from God. Now they hearts were broken too. Roma had touched more lives in his brief twenty-one years than most people encounter in a lifetime!

Since Roma took up residence in Heaven, I have experienced true miracles. And I tell everyone who will listen or read. At first, I feared people would think I was crazy. But to not shine the Light that God had given me through Roma and his stories, would be failing to give Glory to God. God is not silent or still.

I have wondered lately, is God becoming bolder in His actions, or am I suddenly hyper aware of Him? Whatever the case, I am thankful that something so redeeming has transpired after the  excruciating loss of Roma. People are hungry for God Stories. I have had a huge jump in my readership. Even people who never knew my dear boy tell me they feel like they know him and have cried for our loss. And I guess that was the purpose of the book. Now he is a friend to all, and they are eager to read about him. God has not wasted my pain. He has redeemed it all. 

7 and 8. What obstacles have stood in the way of the ministry God has called you to through the hard? And how have you responded to these obstacles?

Lies of the enemy. At the beginning I was reluctant to continue to write my blog. “Who cares about Roma and your little stories now?” was a concern I had. But I had more stories to tell, I still do. God has been giving me many stories to tell, and I will keep writing them down. More than a few readers have said that there will be a second book. We’ll see. As long as God keeps giving me nudges and stories to tell, I will continue to write them down.

I remind myself that God is still good. He sees the BIG picture. I do not. In the past six months since I said a temporary, earthly goodbye to Roma, I have never felt God closer. 

9. What one piece of advice or kernel of wisdom would you like to leave with our readers from your journey through your hard thus far?

Seek and you will find is another often repeated instruction in Scripture.  I like to meditate on Jeremiah 29:12-14. 

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.”  

God is trying to transform us into marvelous creatures like His son. He cannot accomplish this until we surrender ourselves to Him. We will not know Him better until we diligently seek after Him. Pray with expectation that He will be found. 

Father, oh how we thank You for the gift of life. Oh how we thank You that You are a God of compassion, mercy and justice. Thank You for Roma and my own little adopted brother, for all the children the world over who You see in their great need and who You love to set in families and shower in love and affection.

Thank You for Roma’s and his birth and adoptive families’ story that is continuing to be written in You. LORD I ask You to unleash the words You long to be shared through Debbie and to draw those the world over whose hearts and souls You cannot wait to awaken to Your love, truth, compassion and mercy through her. Surprise and awe us with what you have in store for Debbie and those You are weaving and have woven into her life. Continue to sustain and encourage her as she seeks to honor and obey You.

Thank You for remaining so faithful to all birth families, to all adoptive families and to all adopted children . Thank You for bringing more and more healing to Your whole Body through the gift of adoption that teaches us so much about Your faithful love and mercy toward us all.

Father, today I pray for the many birth parents and birth brothers and sisters the world over whose hearts are aching today. I ask You to send them proof of Your unending love for them and the children and brothers/sisters they have surrendered. Unveil Your redemption and Your restoration in ways that surprise and awe them.

Father, I also ask You to strengthen, comfort and pour out Your compassion upon adopted children and their families the world over. When trauma triggers shake these adopted children, fill their new families with Your moment-by-moment discernment to love these precious children of Yours as You love them.

Surround these adopted children and their families with men and women who uplift them and bless them in Your Word and who step in with practical help. Give adoptive parents the courage to forsake the opinion of those around them, where You are calling them to a different path. And where hurt has been caused in a lack of understanding, Father move in Your kindness to restore, heal and redeem. Take what the enemy meant for evil and turn it into good – more and more life in death.

LORD, I ask You to comfort all parents who have had to say goodbye to their child. Who have had to surrender them fully into Your eternal hands. Bring them a special Word of comfort and encouragement today. Surround them with Your Body and Your miracles that remind them that You are with them and have not forsaken them. Surprise them. Awe them. Shower them in blessings.

And lastly, I ask You to make Yourself known in and through every story of adoption, loss and trauma. Reveal Your life in every death and surrender we, Your children, walk through. We love You. We praise You. We honor You. In Your precious Name, Amen.

Slay the Child or Fly in Wonder?

I explain 
The inexplicable
Make sense
Of the senseless
Oh let me stop slaying the child

~ feasting on mystery ~

Who flies on the wings
Of wonder
Her raison d'aitre
Dissolving fear suspended
In awe and wonder.

d’Verse poetics prompt:

Build a bridge

At d’Verse, poets were instructed to either:

  1. Write a poem about bridges that uses some form of the word ‘bridge’ in the poem or in the title, or:
  2. Write a puente (bridge) poem, which does not need to include the word bridge (but it can).

I opted for the 2nd alternative. With thanks to David at https://skepticskaddish.com/2021/04/28/this-heart-or-this-mind/ for inspiring me, encouraging me and introducing me to d’Verse and new forms of poetry. This was so much fun.

Thanks to GESPHOTOSS @gesphotoss for making the profile photo for this post available freely on Unsplash 🎁 https://unsplash.com/photos/b0dqjmJx6g0

Come Back, Daughter

This guest testimony is written by a blogging friend of mine, Lisa Anne Tindal who reminds me to look for God’s presence in the tiniest details of my day. She is a writer and painter inspired by stories of redemption. Her artwork can be viewed on her Etsy page or Instagram. She blogs at https://quietconfidence-artandword.blog. Lisa Anne is the author of a soon to be available children’s book, “Look at the Birds”.

 

With a burst of energy and a desire to clear the clutter, I gathered all of my collected feathers, and along with other found items, I stuffed them into the trash. I saw no need for what had become a little embarrassing, various corners, vases, books, and other spaces became the tucked away place for a feather and what I told myself was a God message. Quite often on my walks, I found a feather, gathered it up, and held it up towards heaven. I’d snap a photo and share it on social media. In my mind, I was sharing hope, I was urging others to be sure of the nearness of God. 

 

Nevertheless, in times of pandemic and cultural upheaval, confusion over my faith, I began to surrender my feathers. I continued to notice them; but, told myself I’ll leave it there for someone else to see,  maybe they need it more. Or could it be my thinking had become, “Maybe they will believe it more than I?” 

 

In a sense, I decided to give it a go on my own. Many plans were coming together. Art in galleries and a children’s book written and illustrated, of all things entitled “Look at The Birds”.  I suppose I believed it was my time to soar. I ran towards opportunities and I looked for more to come. I became less quiet about the talents God had given me and I struck out on my own greedy for more. 

 

My life passage is found in the book of Isaiah. If I’m honest, I chose this passage because of two words that felt comfortable,  so very well described the woman I felt I should aspire towards. I wanted to be quietly confident and although the confidence should have been in God, it had become myself and others on my path. A slippery slope when it comes to dependence, neither dependence on self nor others will keep us aligned with God. Quiet confidence led to sullen despondence. Quiet confidence led to a lack of motivation and bitterness over ideas and hopes not coming together.  Isaiah gives a stern warning against striking out on our own. Innocently enough, going it alone doesn’t always feel like rebellion. I am learning that any steps I take alone are not the steps God has for me. Perhaps in my exhilarant ability to soar, God would clip my wings, cause a difficult landing to humble me.  Naturally, I’d struggle with shame and remorse; but, this time, this daughter of God didn’t linger there nearly as long. 

 

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning[c] and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

 

But you were unwilling, 16 and you said,
“No! We will flee upon horses”;
    therefore you shall flee away;
and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”;
    therefore your pursuers shall be swift.
17 A thousand shall flee at the threat of one;
    at the threat of five, you shall flee,
till you are left
    like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain,
    like a signal on a hill.

The Lord Will Be Gracious

18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
    and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.

 

 

“Come back, daughter” is front and center on my bulletin board. A conversation with a trusted friend, my counselor who knows all of my childhood and adult trauma. A wise and strong woman, consistently she lives out her convictions and without mincing words. I sat with her, my Bible in my lap and I told her, “I don’t think I understand Isaiah 30:15 in the way I should.” I asked her what she felt God wanted me to embrace. She answered, “Come back, daughter.”  Her eyes were kind, her reply was confident. Isaiah is warning against me running ahead of God’s plans and he beckons my return, calls me his daughter. The message for us all in this passage is God waits for us even when we act independently of His will. I imagine Him saying, I’m glad you returned, now rest and stay in step with me and let me show you my plans for you that you’ve yet to see. 

 

Victims of trauma have significant learned behaviors. We do not like to ask for help for fear that help will be denied. Often, we don’t acknowledge our need to be helped. Being helped looks like rescue and for many of us rescue came with a price, a fee we were required to pay with our tender physical selves. Women who have been abused by men do not respond well to demands, we fear manipulation or grooming in the guise of promises that won’t ever come true. 

 

But our heavenly Father is good, and He is none of these things. He loves to see us joyously soaring in fearless ways to accomplish glorious things. But he loves us too much to let us fly on our own. He knows we need the strength of His sure navigation and we need most of all the love and mercy we find tucked safely under the shelter of His wings. 

 

Have you tried flying on your own? Are you soaring too dangerously lofty?

 

Come back, daughter. Your father doesn’t want you to go too far alone.

 

Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of words, the understanding of your word, and the pleasant chances to express the unique voices we all own. Bless the reader of my story of wings and feathers. Open our hearts and minds to one another. May we learn and love as we soar. May we never fly alone. In Jesus Name, Amen.