God Brings in Reinforcements

starsContinued from here.

One of Elijah’s concerns was that he was all alone in dealing with his problem. The truth is that none of us is alone. Not only do we have God, which is really all we need, but we also have one another – our brothers and sisters in Christ to stand shoulder to shoulder with us as we work together to accomplish the Lord’s tasks. God sent Elijah back the way he had come, not alone but with reinforcements, including a protégé and 7,000 people who had been faithful to God.

God placed heavily on my heart that I needed to ask my Christian sisters to pray for me. I sent out an email to my small group ladies (12 of them) asking for prayers and received several supportive emails and texts, reminding me that I was not alone. A few hours after this, God began the restoration process, and I credit these lovely women with providing me with the hope I needed to turn to God in my pain rather than run from Him. I needed to wait for hope, and I found that hope in the form of 12 wonderfully supportive Christian women who loved me enough to hold me in prayer and send me comforting words of encouragement when I was at the bottom of an emotional pit.

I used to be anti-“organized religion” because I had been hurt by church people. However, the Bible is very clear that we are collectively the Body of Christ and that we need one another. I might be the best eye in the world, but without legs and feet to carry me around, what I see isn’t going to change much. We need one another, and we can strengthen one another by holding out a torch of hope when others are struggling.

I began this blog series with a quote from George Matheson about waiting for hope. Last week, I learned that hope comes in the form of one another. Even though I have a close, deep, personal, and intimate relationship with my Creator, I still need my Body to help me connect with my Head, particularly when I am feeling weak and vulnerable. I used to wonder why collective prayer matters. I am beginning to appreciate how crucial intercessory prayer is to the Christian walk.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace cheering in victory while surrounded by multicolored stars. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Hope in Returning our Focus to God

mountainContinued from here .

God’s first response to Elijah’s misery was to nourish him physically and spiritually. This communicated God’s deep love for Elijah. God wasn’t only concerned with Elijah doing the jobs place before him – God was concerned about Elijah as a person He deeply loves.

After nourishing Elijah, God invited Elijah to unburden his heart. God’s response was to reveal himself to Elijah through a gentle whisper, inviting Elijah to join Him. In other words, Elijah needed to stop focusing on his problems and start focusing on God again.

This is the same pattern God used with me last week. First, I needed to be reassured that He still loves me, even though I had blown it in many ways. A part of me sought to run and hide from God, but He opened His outstretched and invited me to be comforted by His embrace. Only after this reassurance of His love and nourishment did He move me to the next phase of restoration, which was returning my focus to Him.

Think of the focus of a camera with a zoom lens. A panoramic focus shows the who landscape, including the trees in the valley and the mountains towering behind them. The cameraman can zoom the lens in so that one tree fills the entire frame, which removes the mountains from view. That’s how we are when we stay focused on our problems. They fill our entire focus, and we block God out of the frame. However, if we will simply zoom out by changing our perspective, we will see that while our problems (like the trees) are still big, our God (like the mountains) is much bigger.

This is what God did for Elijah. In his exhaustion, he temporarily lost sight of the enormity of His God. He detached from the spiritual reality that He is loved and protected by a mighty God and focused solely on the physical threat. God’s response was first to nourish him and then to invite him back to a more accurate perspective of the situation.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing in front of a mountain. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Hope Begins with Physical and Emotional Nourishment

hungryContinued from here.

When Elijah lost all hope and wanted to die, the angel responded by nourishing him:

[Elijah] prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, LORD,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’” ~ 1 Kings 19:4-5

And then the angel nourished him a second time:

The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said,’“Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he …” ~ 1 Kings 19:7-8

Notice that God’s response to Elijah’s predicament was not judgment. God did not say, “I just came through for you with the showdown with Baal. I can’t believe your faith didn’t last longer than this!” Instead, God met his physical needs by giving him food and drink and also providing him with the opportunity to rest. In other words, God knew that Elijah would be more receptive to emotional and spiritual healing after he was restored physically.

This was an issue for me last week as well. I was physically exhausted and emotionally spent, which made me susceptible to spiritual attack in areas where I have been walking in victory for years. Those old records of my not being good enough played repeatedly in my head, and I was perplexed by how I had walked in victory for so long when they now seemed to have so much power over me.

When I finally realized how far I had drifted from where I needed to be, I was ashamed and tempted to run and hide from God, but He wooed me tenderly back. He held His arms wide open and invited me to nuzzle my head against His chest and listen to the beating of His heart as He enveloped me in His arms. There was no judgment – only wave after wave of love and tenderness. God is deeply compassionate when we suffer, and He longs to nourish us so He can tenderly restore us.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking weak under the words, “Me Hungry.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Big Victories Do Not Ensure Confidence in Smaller Battles

helpContinued from here.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of the prophet Elijah’s spectacular victory against the Baal worshipers, immediately followed by depression so heavy that he wanted to die, I recommend clicking on the links and reading both stories before proceeding.

The first lesson to be gleaned is that we can be vulnerable to smaller spiritual attacks, even after big victories. I find it interesting that Elijah didn’t waver when he was the only prophet of the Lord in a showdown against 850 Baal and Asherah worshipers and yet was clearly shaken to the core over the threat of one woman. From the outside, it seems ludicrous to believe God can protect us from the big threats and yet not come through with protecting us from the smaller ones.

And yet, that’s what just happened to me this week! Now, my story isn’t nearly as dramatic as Elijah’s, but the general theme is the same. God has blessed me in amazing ways. I have recently rested in Him in several big areas of my life, even as others in the trenches with me have worried. I have been the one reassuring people that God is bigger than X and that He is going to come through. In other words, I have been the voice of hope for many people in different areas of my life. But then the enemy came after me with an old recording of things that used to rattle me, and it worked! I found my mind being pulled from one negative thought to the next, and I felt as hopeless as I did before God led me to victory in those areas. So, why was I right back in that hopeless place again?

A friend puts it this way: “I can valiantly fight off the shark attack, but I’m being nibbled to death by guppies!” Yes, that’s what I struggled with as well last week. Nothing I was dealing with was huge. Instead, I was overwhelmed that no matter where I looked in my life, I couldn’t keep up. Although I trusted God to be bigger than a shark, He seemed smaller than the sheer volume of guppies, which temporarily caused me to lose hope. I needed to wait for hope to tap into the strength to fight back.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sinking in quicksand under the word, “Help!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Waiting for Hope

A friend gave me Sarah Young’s Jesus Today: Experience Hope Through His Presence (Jesus Calling) for Christmas. This is one of the Jesus Calling books, which Young wrote while battling a long-term illness. Interwoven into the daily devotionals are quotes about holding onto hope while suffering. This one deeply resonated with me:

Waiting with hope is very difficult, but true patience is expressed when we must even wait for hope. I will have reached the point of greatest strength once I have learned to wait for hope.” ~ George Matheson

Not surprisingly, I was immediately tested on this principle and learned that I definitely have much opportunity for improvement in this area. That being said, this quote did come to mind, so I did think to pray for God to give me hope. I had to wait on receiving that hope and did not do it gracefully. However, once the hope came (after asking the ladies in my small group to pray for me), God restored me to a place of peace within hours. So, I wasn’t in a place of waiting for hope too long (a couple of days), but I sure felt every minute of it!

As I sit and write from a place of renewed hope and peace, I am disappointed in myself for “going down the emotional hell well” again. And yet I am also cognizant of how “below the belt” the spiritual attack was that led me to a place of feeling hopeless. It’s humbling to know that even after many years of walking closely with God, I’m still vulnerable, but I’m in good company. After all, Elijah went down the “emotional hell well” immediately after God led him to a huge victory. I’d like to take a look at this story from the perspective of having to wait for hope and talk about how we can apply what we learn to our day-to-day lives.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of Jesus Today: Experience Hope Through His Presence (Jesus Calling) Courtesy Amazon.]

 

God Turns Our Curses into Blessings

Continued from here.

Last week, God led me to a verse that beautifully captures what He has done for me in my life:

However, the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you.” ~ Deut. 23:5

Let those words saturate your shattered heart and wounded soul: The Lord your God will turn your curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you!!

It doesn’t matter what your curse it. For me, it was being sex-trafficked as a child. For you, it might be alcoholism or addiction … abandonment … betrayal … divorce … the death, or even murder, of someone who you deeply loved … injury, disease, or long-term illness … No matter what the curse is, God can turn that curse into a blessing if you will let Him. He does this as you choose to walk with Him and follow Him, even when His ways make no sense to you … even as everything inside of you is screaming that His ways don’t feel good. Push through your resistance and follow Him. Nothing compares to what you will find.

And then here’s the very best part that I relish every day … One of the lessons I learned from The Count of Monte Cristo is that our greatest joys are best experienced against the backdrop of our greatest pains. This is a lesson that God has been showing me over the past few weeks, and I have been driven to tears of thanksgiving and awe multiple times as I process this truth. God has repeatedly taken an area of greatest pain in my life and used that very pain as the fertilizer to nourish a tree of life in that very spot. This is how something as impossible as this Bible verse can happen:

He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the Lord.” ~ Ps. 113:9

The deeper your wound, the greater the restoration. The darker the pain, the brighter the joy. Keep pursuing God and don’t let go until you have received your double portion. Then, you will view your greatest pains as the places of your greatest joys, to the praise and glory of God!

[Graphic: Cover of The Count of Monte Cristo (Bantam Classics). Courtesy Amazon.]

 

Blessings of a Raw Deal Life

blessedContinued from here.

If you are like me and had a raw deal life, you might have trouble believing God could have a blessing in store for you. After all, the world is seemingly filled with people who have family and friends who love and are loyal to them. It can feel like you are living in a Hallmark card world and that you are the only one who got a raw deal. I assure you that this world is filled with people who have lived raw deal lives, most of whom feel just as alone as you do. Don’t buy the lie that you are the exception – the exception is actually the person who got to live a charmed life, and s/he already has the reward.

God promises to restore those of us with raw deal lives, giving us a double portion for all that was taken from us:

Instead of your shame
you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
and everlasting joy will be yours.” ~ Is. 61:7

The more that was taken from you, the greater the blessing God has in store for you … the last will be first. I know how close to the back of the line I was as I was repeatedly raped as a six-year-old child. So much was taken from me, including my ability to trust, to feel loved, and to feel safe. The more that was taken, the more God will restore … TIMES TWO!! With God’s restoration, I move to the front of the line in heaven … and the last will be first.

I frequently share one other blessing that most people miss … Only someone who has been as broken as I was has the opportunity to experience the enormity of God’s healing power in the way that I have! It’s not that God loves me more than anyone else. The point is that I get to experience more healing than most people do simply because I was more broken than they have been. The greater your wound, the greater the healing power required to heal you, which brings you that much more of God!!

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace praying over the word, “#blessed.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

When Life’s Raw Deal was Not Your Fault

my_badContinued from here.

If I was reading this blog series 15 years ago, I would have angrily responded with, “But it wasn’t my fault!! I was six years old!! It was NOT my responsibility or fault that I was sex-trafficked!!” And those words are true. They are not incorrect, but they are incomplete.

I was not responsible for being sex-trafficked as a child. I was, however, responsible for hating my child abusers, which Jesus said is murder. I was responsible for “punishing” the people in my life who tried to love me as I rejected them because of what had been done to me in the past. I was responsible for idolizing food, seeking relief from my pain through an eating disorder rather than seeking the arms of God for my healing.

Again, I would have reacted angrily to reading those words: “If I had not be abused, I would not have NEEDED an idol!! How dare you tell me that I am sinning for hating the people who raped me!! My life is one big train wreck because of other people’s evil choices!! How DARE you tell me that I am sinning by hating them for doing this to me!!”

If this is your reaction to what I have written, I say to you with much gentleness and tenderness – God’s healing is bigger than your pain. My heart was beyond broken. It was shattered into a million pieces, but God gave me a new heart. While I have not forgotten all of the pain I carried for decades, it seems like a lifetime ago – like the story of a dear friend from long ago who has since been healed. I feel separated from all of that pain and heartache because God has healed me, and He will heal you, too, if you will let Him. But you’ve got to do it His way, and that requires forgiving those who broke you, which I know is the last thing you want to hear, but it’s the avenue God uses to heal shattered hearts.

A friend who is having a difficult time forgiving asked me if I would forgive someone who murdered my child, and I said yes. She asked how I could do it. I responded that the alternative is to carry the weight of that anger and pain around for the rest of my life. It’s not worth it.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace shrugging under the words, “My bad.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

The Last Will be First

pity_party_catContinued from here.

I ended my last blog entry by sharing a deeper truth that God recently gave me in answer to my question from years ago of where He was when I was being raped as a little girl. His answer centers around this passage of Scripture:

Then Peter spoke up, ‘We have left everything to follow you!’ ‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.’” ~ Mark 10:28-31

In God’s economy, greatness comes from loss and suffering in this life. Jesus explained this when James and John asked to be seated on Jesus’ right and left side in heaven. We all want to be honored, but are we willing to drink from the cup of suffering that Jesus drank from? He was/is the Son of God, and yet he came not to be served but to serve and to suffer, giving his life as a ransom for many.

Are we willing to endure suffering in this life to receive honor in heaven? The truthful answer for most of us is no. We are so driven by our desire for comfort and control that we reject our Healer, blaming Him for the raw deal that life has thrown us. We made ungodly choices that brought us harm – or were victimized by the wrongful choices of others – and then we rail at God for the consequences of free will used for evil:

A person’s own folly leads to their ruin,
yet their heart rages against the Lord.” ~ Prov. 19:3

When I talk to people who have been given a raw deal in life, I repeatedly remind them that this is NOT heaven. We all want free will, but we also want God to magically remove the consequences of that free will. We cannot have it both ways. If we want to experience the freedom, joy, and peace of God, we must submit our free will to His.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace and a cat sitting together looking sad. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Encouragement for Those Who Got a Raw Deal in Life

dog_cover_faceI am one of those who got a raw deal in life. By the time I was six years old, I was being sex-trafficked, repeatedly raped as family “friends” made money off my body. Despite receiving Jesus as my Savior at age 8, the sex-trafficking continued until my family moved away when I was 11. It took me a long time to reconcile how a loving God – one I had given my heart to at age 8 – could be trusted. Today, I will look you in the eye and tell you with absolutely no reservation that my God is GOOD and infinitely trustworthy. I know that makes no logical sense, and yet it’s the truth.

How did I get there? One step at a time, choosing to believe God’s Word over my own experience. A huge sticking point for me was the question that haunted me for years: “God, where were you when I was being raped as a little girl?” One of the answers I received was that He was right there beside me, grieving that mankind would choose to use free will in such a vile manner. A later answer was that as He was right there beside me grieving, He was giving me the stamina I needed to survive the abuse without becoming an abuser myself as he constructed an exit strategy, which was my family moving away.

I have found that interactions with God are always multi-layered, which is one reason I enjoy reading the Bible so much. You can read a biblical story from a surface level, but there are always deeper meanings and nuances that the Holy Spirit enlightens as you need them. God recently led me to a much deeper layer of His answer to my question of where He was when I was being raped as a little girl: He was preparing great rewards for me because in His economy, the last are first. More on this in my next blog entry.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sitting next to a dog, both of them covering their faces with a hand/paw. Courtesy Bitmoji.]