Saturday, February 14, 2015

February 14th

Happy Valentine's Day! This is a little off topic, but I want to sum up my journey, as it were, before I go on sharing sections from my journal. Over the past six months or so, I've been in a period of a lot of learning and growth in a relatively short period of time, and I want to look back.

My parents, their parents and my siblings and I had been born into a church so legalistic that we followed much of the Levitical law. These laws were called "Standards." The more a person could perfectly uphold these Standards, the more holy their life and the more favor they received from God, and the closer they were to His perfect will for their life. The further they moved from these Standards, the more sullied and compromised they became, falling further and further behind God's perfect will, running the risk of His wrath and suffering.

As a child, I expected to suffer and strive and to look, act, speak, and think exactly according to the Standards and doctrine of the church. Outwardly, I put on a lovely performance, usually. Inwardly, I suffered a noxious combination of anxiety, shame, fear, pride and entitlement.

When I was sixteen years old, my parents' lives began to fall apart when they could no longer hold in all the abuse and pain and hurt that they had experienced as children and throughout their lives. The church at this time was also in chaos, as some wanted to become more mainline Christian and others wanted to hold to the old traditions. In the end, the church split.

My parents, questioning the beliefs and doctrine of the church they had grown up in, began to attend a small Pentecostal church. I had experienced the presence and love of Jesus in a profound and inexplicable way when I was in Middle School, which caused me to love Him very much. This love for Jesus was kindled in me like a consuming flame once in this new church.

During that time, I was baptized in the Holy Spirit, spoke in tongues immediately afterward and for hours at a time in the evenings. I had a fierce, almost painful longing for Jesus that drove me to that kind of prayer. I don't think there are words in any human language that could have contained or expressed the hunger that I had for God.

I experienced the weight, warmth and the light of the presence of God in nearly every service and assumed that this was a normal course of events. I was prophesied over many times and also began to anticipate it. During those times, the presence of God around me and in me was such a wonderful, heady sensation that I wanted it as many times as He allowed me to have it.

Despite all this, I did not live up to everyone's expectations and instead took a sudden, devastating nose dive into a terrible relationship that became an emotionally and verbally abusive marriage that ended a year later when he refused to continue with any kind of marriage counseling and then slept with a coworker.

When I emerged from this, I was twenty-two years old, divorced and uneducated, with no idea what I wanted from life or who I was, other than a failure and a terrible disappointment. There followed almost a decade of mistakes, and false starts when I tried to pull myself up from the backslide, but never managing, and all the while, a long slow healing process, culminating in three years of trauma therapy from abuse I had endured as a child.

When I was thirty, I met and married my loving husband Keith-my husband is a staff sergeant and a tank commander, and served two tours in Iraq, but he now serves as a Cadre in the Warrior Transition Battalion, where he is responsible for the well being of wounded and disabled soldiers from all different ranks and companies as they heal and transition to either a new job in the army or out into civilian life.

We were married a month before he departed for his second tour in Iraq. When he came home safe a year later, we tried to get pregnant, but it didn't happen, and I was diagnosed with infertility, the cause unknown. We wanted to adopt, but we couldn't begin the process, because the army was moving us to Georgia.

Once we were in Georgia, Keith applied for and was granted his position in the WTB unit and because of this, was given a raise and a two year stay, which gave us open door to pursue adoption.

Also we began, for the first time, to look for a church to join. This process turned out to be confusing and unsettling- I didn't know how to sort through all the differing beliefs, doctrines and assumptions about God that I knew where like a terrible weight pressing down on me.

Instead, one day in the autumn of 2011, I began to read the Bible for the first time in more than ten years. I wanted simply to see Jesus, so I started to read in the Gospel of John and it came alive to me in a way I had never known before and I felt the presence of Jesus all around me as I read. When I stopped reading, Jesus was still with me and when I woke in the morning, He was still with me.

I continued to read the Scriptures all day long for days at a time, starting with the Gospel of John, beginning in the Message version and switching to others over time. I read that Gospel over and over again until I longed for more of Jesus and began the process over again in Matthew.

Then I read the four Gospels over and over again until again I longed for more of Jesus, so I began to read the Old Testament and all the way through. This entire time, I felt the presence of Jesus close to me as I read and when I spoke to Him, He would answer. Jesus' presence was so distinct that often it was as though I knew where He was in the room.

Whenever I was caught in deep and intense religious fear from my childhood, I felt myself bundled in His robe- this was a distinct spiritual perception. I knew Jesus was behind me, close and loving and protective, and I could feel myself being bundled up like a child. Jesus would remind me that my life was hidden in Him and that my righteousness came from Him.

Once as I was reading again the terrifying warnings of disobeying God, I said to Jesus, very sincerely, "I'm so glad I wasn't born under the Old Covenant!"

Even then, Jesus replied, you would have been Mine- you would have heard My voice and been called by My name.

Because I had no other way of understanding Jesus' presence, I began to wonder if I was going to die and go to Heaven or go through intense suffering or both, and that Jesus was with me the way He was because He was preparing me for it.

When I dared to ask Jesus if I was going to die, He replied, I have come that you might have life, and that you might have it abundantly.

I assumed Jesus was reassuring me on an overarching principle and not telling me the specifics, since I knew that in Him, I had eternal and abundant life whether here or there. One night in December I was reading about a woman's testimony of her near death experience and seeing Jesus. She loved being there and being with Jesus so much that she didn't want to go back, but Jesus told her that her work wasn't finished.

As I was reading this, Jesus was pouring into my heart the certain knowledge that my life's work here also wasn't finished and it wasn't His time yet for me to go. There were three things Jesus told me to focus on particularly- the first was to love my husband, the second was to continue to pursue adoption- and now of course to love, nurture and raise our lovely daughter, who is just now eighteen months old. The third was to continue to write about Jesus.

So I went on doing those things- obviously they are in fact perfectly tailored to me. During this time, my relationship with Jesus continued to deepen and grow.

I went through a period of time where my longing to be with Him and to see Him was so overwhelming that there were times when I had to stop what I was doing and drop to my knees and pour this longing out like something too heavy to carry even one step further. I remember walking in the park one day and after a while, I couldn't continue to walk and stood there bent forward with my arms around my stomach, groaning aloud and in tears.

Many times, I felt I was being ungrateful to Jesus- I already felt His presence near me day and night, I already heard His voice and had come to know the depths of His love and mercy, so I didn't know what else I could want from Him, but I couldn't contain or deny the longing- some days, it was all I could do to carry it.

One night as tears were trickling down my face into the pillowcase, I cried out to Jesus, "Why am I like this? What are You doing to me? What do You want from me?"

Then I saw something like a veil and through this veil, I saw Jesus, bending forward in grief and longing that was much greater than my own, and Jesus reminded me of how He wept as He walked to Lazarus' tomb, and how much He suffered, knowing that those He loved had suffered, wondering where He was and why He hadn't come in time. Through all that, He knew a greater joy was in store for them.

As time went on, I found myself grasping after and trying to control the presence of Jesus and trying to do little things to earn it, so that things that I had done once as a spontaneous gesture of joy and love were becoming rote.

I think because of this, and because it's an important lesson to learn, I went through a fallow season where my spirit was like a resting field, or a field in winter. I had to rest and let everything that Jesus had told me sink down deep in the waiting quiet. I had to surrender control and to trust Jesus no matter what I felt or heard.

In February of 2013, my longing returned. Only this time, my faith and trust in Jesus had gone way down deep in the quiet time. I gave my whole heart to Jesus in worship and adoration and longing, without reserve, and that is when I began to see Jesus and to be with Him, and He began to teach me what it meant.

A few months into this, Jesus told me something in terms of what He wanted me to do that I have never forgotten. He told me that He would not call me to use the gifts He had given me in a public, official office or ministry but that He would keep me with Him in obscurity.

Jesus also told me that the things I shared on my blog were like little flames of light, and that He was using them in His own way to spark other things, and that it was better for me not to know all that He was doing with them, because it would overwhelm me and I would begin to feel responsible for continuing to cause such things to happen, and I wasn't causing them to happen in the first place- He was.

Those things that Jesus initially explained to me has been confirmed many times over the past year. So I have carried on and grown in my faith and understanding and kept writing in my journal and sharing what Jesus asked me to share and eventually, I began to find others whom God was using in similar ways, to be encouraged by them and to learn from them, and I have found many, and I appreciate them all.

I have sometimes been scrambling to understand everything that I have been learning. After only a short while, I had to sit down on the floor in the bedroom and quiet my heart before Jesus and ask Him, very seriously, if there was something more or greater and different that He wanted me to do than what He had first told me.

In answer, Jesus gave me a portion of a verse- "by the word of their testimony," which I vaguely remembered was a quite powerful verse and had to do with overcoming.

Then I looked up the verse, to understand it better:

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have come the salvation and the power
    and the kingdom of our God,
    and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
    who accuses them before our God day and night,
    has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
    by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
    as to shrink from death."

Revelation 12:10-11

A lot of understanding opened up to me, as I read this passage- how so many things in my life have left me particularly vulnerable to accusation, and yet Jesus' redemptive and healing work in my heart has set me free from those old accusing lies.

This is how I have come to understand my writing and what Jesus expects me to do. Many times when I write, I am drawn back to that passage in James:

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure (undefiled); then it is peace-loving, courteous (considerate, gentle). [It is willing to] yield to reason, full of compassion and good fruits; it is wholehearted and straightforward, impartial and unfeigned (free from doubts, wavering, and insincerity).
And the harvest of righteousness (of conformity to God’s will in thought and deed) is [the fruit of the seed] sown in peace by those who work for and make peace [in themselves and in others, that peace which means concord, agreement, and harmony between individuals, with undisturbedness, in a peaceful mind free from fears and agitating passions and moral conflicts].

-James 3:17-18

So now I pray to Abba, our Heavenly Father, that as beloved children, delivered and transferred from darkness and into the kingdom of the Son of His love, Jesus Christ our Lord, in whom we have our redemption through His blood-

May we be filled to every measure of the fullness of the love of God and abound in every good and perfect work of love, being knit together in love and growing up together into the fullness of the measure of Christ, who loved us and gave Himself up for us as a perfect sacrifice-

Though having in Himself all the fullness of God, He emptied Himself of all privileges so as to assume the guise of a bond servant, in that He became like men and was born a human being, carrying His obedience yet further,  even to death on the cross, that He might present us perfect and holy before Abba-

Therefore, shining as a city of Light set on a hill, may we  never pause to ask our Lord Jesus who is our neighbor, but instead willingly kneel down before the broken and bloodied by the road side, putting aside our dignity, our position and our goals, and lift up the broken, the fallen and the victims, soothing their wounds and carrying them to safety at our own expense-

For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, the perfect and sinless Lamb of God who became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God, risen with Christ and made a new creation in Him, knowing that Abba who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give us the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

As beloved children and ambassadors of the Kingdom of Light and as disciples of Jesus Christ our Lord, may we put aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us, taking up our cross and daily dying to self, forgetting the things that are past, we press forward to lay hold of that for which Jesus laid hold of us, rejoicing not that we tread down the darkness as we walk, but that our names are written in Heaven, where they are inscribed upon the very hands of our God-

And taking our seat at the foot of the table in the Kingdom of God, we declare with Him who laid His life down for us-

Blessed are the spiritually poor—
the kingdom of heaven is yours.

Blessed are those who mourn—
you will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek and gentle—
you will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness—
you will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful—
you will be shown mercy.

Blessed are those who are pure in heart—
you will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers—
you will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness—
the kingdom of heaven is yours.

Fear not, little flock, for it is the Father's will to give you the Kingdom.

And so in the name of the Eternal and Living Father for Whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, and in the name of Jesus Christ, to Whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess as Lord, and in the name of the Holy Spirit, our comforter, guide and standby-

We ask that we might become one through His Holy Spirit in love,
that everyone may know and definitely recognize
that the Father has loved us all with an everlasting love,
reconciling the world to Himself through Jesus' death on the cross.

Now to Him who is able to do abundantly above anything we could ask or imagine by His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations.

May the peace of Christ guard your hearts and minds,  being renewed by the refreshing water of the Word and the cleansing breath of the Holy Spirit, and leaning your whole self in faith and trust upon Jesus Christ, knowing that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it, and will preserve you, body, mind and spirit, in faith, hope and love, until that day when we see the face of our Lord Jesus Christ- becoming to Him His glory, crown and dwelling place, and He to us, our Lord, Life and Heaven.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!