Overwhelmed with God’s great love and mercy…
Upon my return from Church this afternoon, I completed a few simple household tasks, eyes still raw from the tears shed during a powerful time at church. The thoughts poured over me of the goodness of my God and His continued faithfulness to me. God has brought me out of the vast darkness that had held me bound for so long.
In the afterglow of a tear-induced nap, I am still attempting to process all that has happened and the wonders of His amazing goodness.
The last two and a half years have been the most challenging years that I can remember ever walking through. As I look back through pieces of my story, before any of my time in Chicago even came to pass, I can see periods of my life where I was on a search…..a search to find my purpose, a search to find identity, a search to find acceptance, a search to find community, a search to find love….really this was a search for all of that wrapped up in my search for my Heavenly Father. God has shown me that “all the days ordained for me were written in [His} book before one of them came to pass” (Ps 139:16) and that He knew the plans he had for me, plans to prosper and not to harm me, plans to give me a hope and a future (Jer 29:11). In Jeremiah, God goes on to say “Then you will call upon 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 and will bring you back from captivity” (Jer 29:12-14). In all the life steps I have taken, before I even knew God, He was there, He heard my heart’s cries and my mouth’s cries for Him….He pursued me because, in His eyes, I am worth pursuing and He did not give up on me.
God prepared me to come to Chicago, by loving me back to following Him through a church family. He left nothing out in the preparation – NOTHING – and was faithful to answer my prayers for direction in a way only I could understand. Today, I am fully and wholly convinced that He called me to Chicago – the city in which I had dreamed of living for many years. Though I am not fully sure of His plans for me, I know they are good and I know that in these two and half years, He has NEVER left my side.
When I arrived here in May 2008, I did not know what I was to face. I had been pursuing, even fighting for, emotional healing through 12-step recovery for many years. I had been set free from the captivity of addiction and had re-committed my life to Jesus. I had visited a church the first weekend here but, with His prompting, I tried another church the second weekend here. Through a supernatural experience of Him in this place, I knew that this was to be my church home. I immediately joined this church family and continue there to this day.
In just over 16 months of living in Chicago, both my parents and one of my cats had died. If I had still lived in Champaign, I would not have been able to be with my parents in their last days of life. This was an opportunity for me that I had only because of my obedience to God in moving here. However, I was not prepared for the overwhelming grief, sadness, and pain I would feel as a result of these losses. Because of my profession, I had a basic, textbook knowledge of the depths of grief. I had even worked through some minor episodes of grief due to changes and losses over time, but nothing like what I faced here. I was not prepared for the wounds that these deaths would re-open, nor was I prepared for the old faulty core belief systems to increase, the loneliness, the emotional regression, or the intense urges to run back to the safety and comfort of Champaign. Though I could barely see through the intense emotion of that period, God was there.
In this time, I found myself feeling more lonely than I ever remember feeling. I did not feel accepted – not because of others but because of me. Work was challenging. My emotional state was fragile at best and, in all honesty, I thought I was losing my mind. I pushed people away on a frequent basis, and was so angry and grief-soaked, that I was merely functioning and surviving….not living. God was still there and was placing people around me at church that did not allow me to go through this alone. In addition, He was showing me new areas of focus and awakening giftings in me that I was not even aware I had.
I had intense periods of darkness and despair and found it hard to describe this to people. When I did describe it, many, well-intentioned people were quick to offer the advice of anti-depressants to “get me through” this time. I resisted this option because on some level, I knew that this was not just a period I needed to get through, but a full-on battle for my heart and mind. I’m not a bible scholar, by any means, so my knowledge of the Old Testament was quite elementary. A few months after my mother had died, I was on a much-needed work sabbatical and heard Joyce Meyer speak on Deuteronomy 8. This was the first time I had heard about this book or the possible purpose of the wilderness, and it was a turning point for me.
The concept of the wilderness fit in every way possible and I had revelation about where I was…but, better than that, I then had an idea of why I was there. God didn’t stop there…he went further. He also showed me that when He leads His people out of Egypt to the wilderness, His glory is there (Ex 16: 10)….He hears our complaints and shows us who He is in the midst of our fear, our darkness, our loneliness, our own individual wilderness. Deuteronomy 7 says that when God brings into the “land you are entering”, he drives out many nations and when He has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them , then you must destroy them totally (Deu 7:1-2). It says He will drive them out little by little (Deu 7: 22) and that we are not to be terrified by them because God is with us and He is a great and awesome God. (Deu 7:21). I had a lot of nations/”ites” for God to drive out. Through the great loss I had suffered, God led me to a place where His glory could be found. He was waiting for me in that wilderness and He has lovingly been “driving out nations” from me in that place over the last two and a half years so that I could enter the land He has set aside for me….the plans He has for me…my destiny.
Deuteronomy 8:1-9 says the following: “Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.
Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.”
Through it all, I have not turned my back on God. In my complaining, my crying, my grief, my despair, my loneliness, my anger, my pushing people away, my inability to communicate with Him what my needs were, my struggles with prayer and quiet time, my fear that my emotions would hold me captive, my negative thoughts about myself, I clung to Him, my only source of refuge and peace. There were times I had felt He was so far away, I felt dry. He was still there.
I was given a prophetic word….a scripture written by a prophet in a book to me – just the scripture, no interpretation. I tried for weeks to seek God on the interpretation. I was really wanting to just feel Him with me…then, one Sunday in Church, my pastor quoted the scripture and talked about the implications. The scripture was Luke 2:36-38 and talked about Anna sticking close to God and continuing to pursue Him for the promise of Jesus the Messiah. Our pastor talked about God never remaining silent even when we perceive Him to be and the need for us to hold onto the promise and not the circumstances for our truth (my interpretation of his message). God was speaking to me even in the perceived dry times, He was not going to let me go and continued to whisper words of love and encouragement to me. My wilderness has led me to a deeper understanding of who He is in my darkest hours and I believe that I have done my best to keep His commands. The deaths of my parents were horrific. Through them, through the move, through the work challenges, God used the wilderness to raise me up and to equip me with a heart knowledge of Him and His love. My shoes did not wear out, my feet did not swell….He blessed me with favor throughout this time in many other areas while He was disciplining me and driving out the “ites” so that I could walk into that which He has called me. God has brought me out of the darkness. I feel that the wilderness, in many ways, has ended. As a result, my perceptions have changed about myself and others, and especially of Him and my relationship with Him. He is so good and He is a loving Father who will meet us where we are and heal us in the wilderness.
I am completely and totally overwhelmed at the amazing love, favor, and grace of God. My heart is full with a knowledge of what He has done to heal me….no human could have fixed me, only Him. The emptiness inside of any of us can only be filled by Him. He is in the wilderness waiting to meet us and bring us through so that we can walk with Him into the greater things to which He has called us. I am truly humbled and forever grateful.