Dear Christians, Jesus is Calling Us!

I believe with all of my heart that in this time of exceptional polarization and heightened vitriol, Jesus is moving in powerful ways, and as He moves, He is calling us to be His hands and feet in a radical and reconciliatory way! He’s calling us to be a river of grace amidst the stones of judgement, a bridge of love amidst the firestorm of rage, a breath of truth amidst the suffocating lies, a blanket of peace amidst the whirlwind of fear, a testament to His unfailing mercy and goodness, a light in the darkness, a shelter in the storm. God’s will for our lives is to love like Jesus. 2018 presents a fresh opportunity to cling to the promises of our Father and release the grip we may have on our political ideologies and religious doctrine. If we love Christ then we are called to love like Christ! I believe The Lord’s heart aches when He witnesses believers showing anything but the love of the Lord to those outside their tribe, their nation, their race, their political party, their religion. I’ve shattered my own heart with actions and words that did not honor and glorify God. I’ve engaged in outrage and I have had to ask for forgiveness. In 2017 I felt a distance between my heart and the hearts of other Christians that I have never felt before, and with that, came loneliness and confusion. Last year reminded me over and over that we must look to Him and ask for His heart so that we may show His magnificent love His monumental way. It is always the right time to stand up for what is lovely, cast off ugliness, and hold firm to His message of love and grace for every one of His creations. Christians, if we believe we were created in His image and He is Love, then we must be prepared to love without borders or judgement…we must be prepared to show a love that is all inclusive and accepting…we must be prepared to vulnerably and persistently seek reconciliation with those who look, think, live, speak, pray, vote differently than us… we must be prepared to be a supernatural example of what His love and grace looks like in a broken world full of broken people. In order to be a visible reflection of Christ’s image we must allow Him to transplant our heart with His. I believe the Lord yearns for tenderness in our hearts, discernment on our tongues, softness in our speech, selflessness in our actions, and an approach to others that comes from no other place but a place of love. I believe there is no better time than now, in 2018, to open our hearts to those across the street, over the fence, on the other side of the aisle, and beyond the borders of faith and country. I believe The Lord yearns for us to fellowship with one another, break bread and draw close. My prayer is that a strengthened connection will loosen our judgements and quiet our hearts. My prayer is that we will reach across the table to hold hands, heal hurts, and spread joy. My prayer is that we will let go of our talking points and learn to love his ENTIRE creation as He does. My prayer is that we will put Him before all else so that we may consistently represent His gospel and be a light to the world. My prayer is that we will learn to see and treat others as The Lord does and that we will silence the untruths that attempt to misrepresent what we believe and who we live for. My prayer is that Christians will be an example of Jesus’s love in all circumstances to all people.

“My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality.” 01 John 3:18

In 2018, what would it look like to be Love? What would it sound like to be Love? What would it feel like to be Love? Christians, how can we align our actions, our words, our hearts, our daily lives with the love of Jesus? How can we communicate the kindness of Jesus and confirm to his entire creation that we want to share life’s burdens even when our struggles differ?

What was Jesus’s relationship with the poor? How did he care for the impoverished? Were there pre-requisites to His giving? Did Jesus measure a person’s work ethic before he fed them? How can we think and talk about those who have been stricken by poverty in a way that shows the love of Jesus?

When the word “lazy” is used to refer to a human being (a creation and image of God) on welfare does it heap shame on a person who has been struggling with shame for years maybe a lifetime? Is this a word that brings healing or does it create new wounds and rip open old ones? Do we talk about those who are suffering from a place that sounds hard-hearted and unloving, judgmental and unkind or from a place that represents The Love of Jesus? Is it possible that only God sees and intimately knows what another person has endured in their lifetime or what they presently face on a daily basis? Could it be that if we knew a person’s story and what they’ve lived through we would be amazed at their resiliency and that they’ve even survived?

Taking it one step further, is it possible that what we think about a person’s “story” should have nothing to do with how open we are to give?

Could Jesus be calling us to stop judging and to JUST LOVE?

Through my work in Medicaid as a medical social worker for 15 years, I know of thousands of people who were living comfortable lives and then suffered a terrible tragedy that stole their independence, their livelihood, their physical and emotional wellness, and sometimes even the lives of their loved ones. I also know those whose tragedy started when they were born into a home that provided no safety, no love, and no promises of happiness…born into a life I cannot even being to imagine enduring. Even with this knowledge, is it our responsibility to deem whether or not the reasons behind a person’s circumstance are “sad enough” or “make sense?” Are we called to judge whether or not someone is deserving of relief or rescue according to our criteria?

Matthew 25:35-40 says, “35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

When we consider how we will give, it may do our spirit well to remember that no inherent worth comes with money or hard work…our worthiness comes from the grace of God. Those who live comfortably are no more worthy of God’s love than those who struggle day to day to survive on little to nothing. Jesus gave in love, and so must we.

We are called to love not judge. We are called to pour out God’s grace not blame and shame. We are called to connect and build relationship and join others in their pain with an open and giving heart. We are called to open our arms not point or wag our finger. We don’t need to understand the why or the how behind a person’s circumstance before adopting a loving and giving heart towards them. We don’t need details to press in, break bread, connect, love.  Christian’s, let us love without condition…let us give without judgment…let us include without limits…let us love like Jesus.

What was Jesus’s relationship with the oppressed, the stigmatized, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised? How can we avoid complacency and a silence so loud it deafens those who have also been muted?  As Christians, should we be careful not to insinuate that, “if I’m not affected it doesn’t matter?”

My truth is that I live a life of privilege, most of which I was born into, that is not affected by most governmental decisions. Health care, immigration, welfare, gay rights, civil rights, etc. are not issues that directly affect my daily life or well-being. I have never had to fight for benefits tied to who I love; I’ve never had to wonder how my children will receive health care or fear that I could lose my livelihood with a vote. I have never had to escape a dangerous country clinging to my children while begging the Lord to keep them alive. I have never had to worry how someone might treat me because of the color of my skin.

“The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” Psalm 9:9

Can we dismiss, minimize, or trivialize the concerns of our fellow human beings and still be an example of love and grace? Could it be that if it weighs on their hearts, it weighs on the heart of The Lord, and it should weigh on ours as well? I believe Jesus would always choose people over policy. This is not a call to protest or to rail against people we don’t agree with. Anger is not from The Lord, but a heart to advocate for others and a spirit of kindness are. As servants of Jesus, a willingness to “be with” and “judge not” would serve Him, others, and us well. He was not a political man but a lover of men and He loves and cares for those who are hurting regardless of the cause.

“…If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday…” Isaiah 58:6-11

Would Jesus disregard those who call for justice and equality or would he listen to the breaking of their hearts and offer love and healing? Does God yearn to transform our hearts in a way that brings reconciliation and healing, love and forgiveness? Could we ask for the heart and ears of Jesus and listen to the message behind those who are hurting without judgment, jumping to conclusions, and justifying offense?  Christians, I believe we can embrace truth and avoid perpetuating false dichotomies or taking up political, personal, and or religious offense so quickly that we dismiss a need for change or miss an opportunity to love. Jesus spent time with, identified with, individually ministered to and released the oppressed and I pray that He will help us do the same.

How would Jesus respond to those who have been victimized by sexual misconduct? What is the heart of God for those identifying with #metoo? Does God’s heart break with each new breaking story? Does he mourn for his sons and daughters who have suffered in secrecy and shame for so long? Does he weep with them?

John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus came to heal wounds and restore what has been stolen.

I am a part of this movement and I don’t know of a woman in my life that isn’t. I’ve been harassed, humiliated, and forced upon by men in a way that has shamed me and changed the way I see myself in the mirror, and it happens to people all over the world without any political motivations. Certainly we must be responsible in our investigations of each claim, but we must also be responsible in our responses to the brave and vulnerable victims who come forward. Christ does not desire for his sons and daughters to drown in secrecy and shame because they are too frightened to come forward due to political, professional, and/or personal maliciousness. Christ desires freedom and restoration and that can only occur in the light. I believe it is important to treat the #metoo movement as an opportunity for supernatural healing on both sides and this will mean we have to lay our judgement and knee-jerk reactions aside. This movement is an anguished cry from so many men and women who have been horrifically mistreated and abused and it is an opportunity for Christians to come forward with love and acceptance.

How would Jesus respond to those who have been accused of sexual misconduct? Does God consider their political ideologies or their hearts? Are we being a holy representation of God when we brush the sin under the rug? Are we being a holy representation of God when we condemn the accused? Making excuses for the sin or the sinner fuels the fire and re-injures those who have been victimized by the sin, but we also don’t have The Lord’s permission to judge and condemn. We are called to be agents of intercession and how we view the perpetrator should not change based on political party, faith, culture, etc. The ministry of Christ is to intercede before the throne of God for the sinner in the hopes that he will respond to the voice of God. Regardless of a person’s politics, religion, race, ethnicity, history, etc. Jesus wants to set them free of their perversion, make them whole, forgive their sin and bring them home to Him.

John 3:17-19 states, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Truth will set the sinner free and shining light into the darkness is the function of the Holy Spirit.

We must consistently speak truth, offer grace, forgive, and love if we wish to exemplify the Kingdom of God.  Christ spilled His blood for every sinner and only God can shine a light into a dark heart and set it free.  As one of my favorite authors, Paul David Tripp wrote, “grace moves toward wrong, not to condemn, but to rescue restore, help and forgive.” Transformation and healing are possible for perpetrators and victims and we are called to believe this and pray for this regardless of party affiliation or identification of faith.

How much does Jesus love his creation…his entire creation? Does he weep for refugees and immigrants who flee their country of origin to escape brutality and negligence in their country of origin? Would he encourage us to make decisions about his creation from a place of fear or a place of love?

“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:18-19

If I sit and imagine I live in a country where my children’s lives are at risk every single day, a country where my children have seen dead bodies before they’ve seen a playground, a country where torture is commonplace and the sound of music is replaced with the hissing of missiles and the rhythm of explosions, I become physically ill. If I imagine having children in a place where the government leaves my kids starving or allows gangs the freedom to kidnap my family members, I see myself doing ANYTHING (regardless of legality) to save my children’s lives. Can we imagine if these were our starving children, our bloodied brothers, our sobbing mothers? What would we be willing to do?

Of course there have to be safety measures. Of course there have to be laws, but again Jesus calls us to LOVE…and love over fear. He doesn’t call us to only love Americans or law-abiding citizens or those who speak English or those who share our same values or culture…he calls us to love everybody…every person…every human he created and he created all of us. God didn’t create countries or borders…He created people…human beings…all equal in His eyes. How does God see his creation? Is it possible that the way we sometimes speak about other human beings saddens our loving God who sees His creation as a lovely and lovable whole? Does He desire for us to avoid the use of dehumanizing language so that we will make decisions that consider others as a creation of God?

Christians, I believe we must talk about and treat immigrants (legal or not) as if they’re God’s creation, because that IS who they are…they are our brothers and sisters! They are not “the other.” They are not “those people” or “them.” They are US!!! They are God’s!

What is Jesus’s heart towards those we struggle to love? Does God have criteria on who is deserving of His sacrificial love or does He offer love to His entire creation without condition? For those of us who have struggled with discouragement, fear, offense, anxiety, and possibly outrage this past year, are we willing to release the negativity we have invited into our hearts and minds to seek a replacement of supernatural peace and joy that can only come from The One who loves perfectly? Can we stand up for what’s right, defend the oppressed, love the outcasts, lift up the down trodden all while asking Jesus to protect our hearts from anger and judgment, un-forgiveness and despair? I know that I cannot summon a loving heart towards every person, but God can. My human abilities have not allowed me to reach a place where I can forgive everyone, but Jesus forgives and so I continue to pray for His heart.

Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you except to be just, and to love [and to diligently practice] kindness (compassion), and to walk humbly with your God [setting aside any overblown sense of importance or self-righteousness]?” And so, in 2018, I am committed to diligently practicing loving-kindness and setting aside my ego.

I openly admit that I struggled last year with balancing my desire to be a refuge to the hurting while also showing love to those I believed (right or wrong) were causing the hurt, but I was convicted when I read these words from Paul Tripp:

“Lost children need compassion. It doesn’t make any sense to get mad at somebody who is lost. It doesn’t make any sense to make it a matter of personal offense against you. It doesn’t make any sense to condemn a lost person with words or throw a punishment at them and walk away. Lost people need understanding and compassion.”

I’m lost a lot! I need compassion and understanding! I believe I can have compassion for the most difficult of people IF God imparts His love and grace into my heart. This is not something I can do on my own, but I do desire a softer heart towards those that offend and disappoint, and all humans do, including me. I desire an ability to forgive.  I desire a freedom from outrage and an ability to stand for compassion for all…even those I don’t believe have earned it. But, who has earned it? Who does deserve it? I have done nothing to deserve the Lord’s unconditional love, grace, and forgiveness, so I ask you reader to also have compassion for me when I offend and disappoint.

I want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and do what The Lord instructed in Luke 6:27-28, “But to you who are listening I say, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” I cannot do these things without divine intervention, so I continue to seek the Lord’s heart through prayer and fellowship with other Christ followers who believe in His message of unconditional love and grace for all. His power is made perfect in our weakness, so as we face hardships I pray our hearts will find rest knowing that when we are weak He makes us strong.

In an age of echo chambers and confirmation bias I am praying that in 2018 God will break the chains of political ideology and dogmatic theology so that we can be Ambassadors of His Love…a safe haven for all of creation…a warm and tender place of good news.

I pray from Psalm 51: “Create in me (us) a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (us).”

Amen.

 

 

 

My Testimony

For 34 years, I described my faith as “inherited.” I spent a significant amount of my adult life wrestling with my convictions and whether or not my spiritual life was solely a result of my upbringing. I openly shared with other Christian friends the desire to have a faith that was my own, a faith I experienced first hand, a faith I had heard so many others enthusiastically proclaim from the pulpit after encountering a miracle in the midst of their life’s “rock bottom.” I longed for something to strengthen my spiritual walk…I longed to know The Lord in a way so real that there would be no room for doubt….I longed for a testimony that I couldn’t ignore or explain away. I always sensed deep down that to secure my faith, I would need a moment where everything changed….saved by something supernatural, something undeniably bigger than myself. I spent many years praying for that moment and that it would forever obliterate my lingering uncertainty. I prayed for a testimony that I could share with passion and authenticity.

I was 12 weeks pregnant with our first baby and it was 7am on Mother’s Day when my phone rang. I saw that it was my sister-in-law and immediately assumed she was calling to wish me my first “Happy Mother’s Day.” I answered the phone and cheerfully said, “Happy Mother’s Day Nicole,” but in a distant and shaky voice she responded by asking if I was with my husband and if she could speak to him instead. As my husband held the phone, I thought I heard her whisper, “Burt’s dead.” My mind immediately began rejecting the sights and sounds around me as I watched the color drain from my husband’s face and listened to him vehemently repeat, “that’s not funny….stop…why are you saying that?” He left the room and I watched the walls close in around me as the world disappeared. I somehow summoned the courage and the strength to walk from my bedroom to the living room as my husband returned from the porch and somehow conveyed to me that my brother had died in a tragic accident. Reality ripped through me like a jagged knife and I my heart was left severed…barely beating. Soul shattering pain has a sound. It’s deafening silence is filled with cries so raw they don’t sound human. Grief has a taste and a texture. It is sharp and unforgiving. It is bitter but necessary to survive. Tragedy alters your senses forever. I began trembling in an effort to reject the truth as I begged, “you must’ve misunderstood…that could not have happened…he’s probably hurt and in the hospital, but he’s not dead!” I insisted that my husband call the chaplain to get the correct information…information I could live with. I was absolutely convinced there had been a horrible mistake…an incomprehensible misunderstanding and that another phone call would clear up all of the confusion, loss, and darkness. With another call it was confirmed that we were now facing the most harrowing weeks of our lives. I fell to my knees in the middle of the floor, crying out in a voice I didn’t recognize, shaking and rocking as if my body was incapable of absorbing another breath. My husband placed a blanket around my shoulders as if my trembling could be rectified with physical warmth. Screams escaped the deepest part of my being, “not my family! This doesn’t happen to us! This doesn’t happen to us!! What about my mom!? Where’s my mom?! It’s Mother’s Day! Not us! Not us! Not my brother! My mom! Where’s my mom?!” Even 3 years later, when I think back to that horrifying day it’s as if I’m separated from it all and watching from a dark detached place. From afar I can see my mom at my front door trembling with disbelief. I watch my little brother kick open the front door, throw his hat across the room and embrace my mom and I with arms that would never hug our brother in this world again. The sorrow is tangible. The pain audible. I used to hear stories of loss or watch tragedy on the news and say, “I can’t imagine!” and I was right…I truly could never have imagined how horrific unexpected grief would be. Even now that I’ve lived through something traumatic, there’s a barrier my soul has created to protect me from fully re-imagining the devastation. When I let my mind wander, I still cannot conceive surviving the kind of loss my family has already survived. It’s as if what we endured that day was from a separate life…a life once removed and even though we made it to the other side I cannot fathom weathering another tragedy like the loss of my brother.

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My brother and his beautiful family

Five months after Burt’s passing, my little brother (Ryan) and I flew to Seattle to tour where our older brother had spent the last year of his life. We ate his favorite food at his favorite restaurants, took his favorite hikes, and visited where he had very happily worked for the year before we lost him.

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Ryan and I on Burt’s favorite hike

It was a beautiful and gut-wrenching trip. As we waited in the airport for our flight home we reminisced about the emotional yet healing trip we had just encountered. I was flooded with emotion when I finally worked up the nerve to ask Ryan, “How do you know Burt is ok? How do you know God is real? How do you KNOW that you know?” Void of judgment, my younger brother shared with me that he knew Burt was ok because he knows The Lord is real and that his personal relationship with God our Father has made his faith strong. With the few tears I had left, I admitted to Ryan that I didn’t have this faith but that I had longed for it for years. I confessed, “I don’t know that The Lord is real. I don’t know that Burt is ok or that there’s a heaven. I have so much doubt and I want to have peace. I have no peace and I’m scared.” Ryan and I had a powerfully honest and vulnerable conversation and he promised he would be praying that I would find the assurance and peace I was seeking. There was no way for me to imagine the turn my life would take, the challenges I would face, the fear that would soon flood my heart and mind.

Shortly after our trip I became completely debilitated with a chronic migraine that stole my life for months. I wasn’t just weak or weary…I was profoundly incapacitated. After having our son, Isaac Burton, we moved in with my parents. I was unable to work, unable to drive, unable to run a simple errand or clean my house. I was unable to do most of the things we take for granted every day. The loss I experienced from no longer being able to participate in everyday tasks didn’t hold a candle to the grief I felt due to not being able to care for my one and only newborn baby boy. I couldn’t provide the basic things a mother gives her child. I couldn’t feed my son, I couldn’t bathe him or play with him or even laugh with him. I couldn’t comfort my son when he cried. I was soon on 10 different medications whose side effects made me so ill I lost 40lb in less than 2 months. I saw multiple chiropractors, acupuncturists, reflexologists, massage therapists, dentists, endodontists, 6 different neurologists, visited the ER 3 times and was finally hospitalized for infusion therapy for 3 days with zero progress. It was after this hospitalization that my husband drove his spiritless wife back to her parent’s house while she was swallowed by a dark abyss.

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How I spent most of my days for 5 months

A day or two after my hospitalization my brother and sister-in-law brought dinner over for the whole family. My pain was too extreme and the multiple meds I was on made me too sick to eat, so I retreated to my parents room and laid down on their bed. My brother soon followed to offer me a head and shoulder massage in the hopes that he could give me a little relief from the constant pain I had been living with for months. My brother began praying over me and although I don’t remember his words, I do remember the tears of desperation and hoping with all of my being that the power of his prayer would lead to that miraculous testimony I had been longing for. I was imploring the Lord for a miracle.

The next day, as I was taking a shower, fear hopelessness and suffering poured out of me in angry and desperate cries. This moment became the darkest and most isolating time I have ever experienced. The minor physical relief I felt while in the shower magnified the emotional pain of knowing that this relief was only temporary and that my quality of life would once again disintegrate as soon as I stepped out of the shower. I began to sob so uncontrollably that my mom and dad heard me from the living room. My mom opened the bathroom door and hesitantly asked me if I was ok and I could barely choke out a “no.” She offered me an over-sized fresh towel, but I was well beyond physical comforts. Soon, my husband came into the bathroom. He pulled back the curtain and said, “Renee’ talk to me.” All I could utter, over and over and over as I held myself in the fetal position on the shower floor, was

I can’t go on….I’m giving up…I can’t go on….I’m giving up…I can’t go on…I’m giving up.”

I explained that if this was living, then I did NOT want to live and that Isaac deserved a mommy who could care for him, play with him, laugh with him. I told him that the only future my mind’s eye held was one where I lied in a bed watching Isaac grow up while he watched me whither into nothingness. I had come to believe that I if I went on living I would do so without being a part of my son’s life and that I couldn’t bare the thought of deteriorating in front of him. I can say without any dramatization that in that moment I wanted to die and I was ready to go…begging The Lord to take me and my suffering and the suffering I was causing and would continue to cause to those who loved me. With fear and determination in his eyes, Pete said, “I will not listen to you talk like this! I will not let you give up or let go. You’re going to get dressed and we’re going for a walk right now.” We took that walk while I barely had the strength to hold myself upright but I could not be convinced there was hope so I continued to repeat,

I can’t go on….I’m giving up.”

Before my hospitalization I had been gifted a massage with a therapist who travelled to her client’s houses. Having had no improvement from the help of some of the most prominent neurologists in the country there was nothing to lose so I called the therapist and made an appointment shortly after my discharge. Just a few hours after I had proclaimed I was giving up and could not go on, the therapist (Valerie) arrived at my parents house and we met for the first time. She set up her table in my parents room and then asked permission to pray with Pete and I. The three of us stood together in unity and Valerie prayed that the massage would be physically and most importantly emotionally healing. My eyes were almost swollen shut from crying as I laid down on her table. Thirty minutes into the massage Valerie whispered, “I’m going to say something that will probably sound really strange and I hope that’s ok. I’ve never had anything like this happen before, but I feel like I need to share something with you.” Not knowing what to think or expect I tentatively responded, “ok?”

I feel your brother here and he’s saying that you have to keep going and you can’t give up. You have to keep going! You cannot give up! Have you been thinking of giving up?”

In that instant, I was released from the claws of darkness that had extinguished my hope. In that moment the belief that all was lost was replaced with a promise for the future. In that breath my faith was set in concrete and my doubt was destroyed. Without any knowledge that just hours before I had uttered those exact words, Valerie spoke Truth to my shattered heart. As tears soaked my face, I soaked in the certainty that I would see my brother again and that I would one day be an active and healthy mother to my son. Valerie continued, “Burt and The Lord want you to know that this is just for now. It is not forever. This trial will equip you to be there for others in a way that you would not have been able to without this experience. The Lord is preparing you to be a witness for others…to give hope to others. This is just for now. It is not forever.” She then asked me a question I never would’ve considered. She asked if I had believed the lies of hopelessness…if I had let the spirit of suicide into my thoughts. When I confirmed that I had been consumed by fear and despair she offered me the chance to repent. I had never before thought of the need to repent, but I realized then that I had spent months choosing to believe words from the enemy instead of the promises from My Father. Valerie lead me through a prayer asking for His forgiveness and for His strength and grace to keep my eyes on Him no matter how long my pain lingered. We prayed that I would never again enter that place of desolation and that He would make his plan for my life come alive.

I need to be clear that this supernatural experience didn’t come with physical healing. My pain did not go away. I did not start taking care of my son. I did not go back to work. This was a mental, spiritual, and emotional healing that could be physically felt by those around me. My mom later shared that after my massage she felt a dark cloud lift from our home. My husband agreed that he felt a peace in me he hadn’t had a glimpse of in months. I was a new woman inside. I had a gripping faith. My heart and mind were filled with radiant hope. I had experienced the Lord in a way I never had before and I knew I would one day be whole again. I knew my brother was with our Lord and that he was with me…with us and that one day I would see him, laugh with him, embrace him again.

Shortly after this life-changing event I shared my story with a dear friend. We both cried as I recounted the supernatural change that had taken place in me and then she told me something that made my encounter with The Lord even more genuine and powerful. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she had been at my parent’s house the night my brother prayed over me. She had stopped by to drop off groceries and was told I was in my parent’s room laying down. I recalled someone had been holding my hand while my brother prayed and at the time I assumed it was my mother. My friend shared with me that when she walked into the room there was a wall of suffocating darkness and that it felt like she had walked into my funeral. She said the oppression was palpable and in that moment she knew I was fighting a spiritual battle as well as a physical one. When she left the house she told her husband, “we have to pray for Renee’. She is in a fight for her life.” That night, my friend sensed the destruction I was succumbing to. She had a glimpse of my desire to give up. As she told me her experience I was overcome with awe at the realization that her visit that night and the desperate prayers that followed were a spiritual intervention that literally lifted me from the cold shadows my heart and mind had staggered through for months. It was the very next day that my life was changed forever and I was saved from fear, wariness, and death. When I didn’t have the fortitude to pray there were so many others interceding for me and I will always be grateful for their faithfulness because it was their belief that saved me from my disbelief. It was their conviction that lifted me up to meet and know my God and Savior in a way that transformed me from the inside out.

Even with my heart and soul altered forever I was still living with constant pain and In mid-February, I received a dreaded call from my employer telling me that if I didn’t return to work in 1 week then my job would no longer be protected. As I heard those words from HR, I had 2 thoughts: “This is it, the life I’ve known is over” and then, “Renee’, this is it, God has a plan for your life and you are not in control.” I don’t memorize Bible verses, but my massage therapist later quoted Jeremiah 29:11, “for I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but that verse came alive for me and was branded on my soul the split second I heard that I was days away from losing my job. I finally embraced the realization that if I could will myself well it would’ve happened months ago. I acknowledged that I was not in control of what life doled out, but that I could choose how I reacted to the hand I was dealt. I had a choice…I could crumble, lose all hope once again, and accept that the life I dreamed of was over, or I could let it all go, step away from the helm and TRUST that God had a plan for my life and that His plan is always good. Again I felt that supernatural peace and strength wash over me. I realized during that phone call that I truly had no authority over how my life would proceed, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was surrounded by love, and that no matter what happened to my health or my job, The Lord had a plan and he would give me the strength and grace to see that plan through. I felt this truth (Jeremiah 29:11) in my inner core…a truth that gave me a peace so real that I can only describe it as being from God. I spent the rest of the day struggling with how I would tell my husband that I would most likely be unemployed soon, but when I finally gained the courage to say the words out loud, he also sensed that same inexplicable, “crazy” peace. We just KNEW that we KNEW that we would be okay. My husband and I decided that I would attempt to go back to work the following week and we remained prepared to accept that this probably would not be a successful endeavor. The day before my return was like every other day had been. I had the same level of pain and found it difficult to imagine that the next day of waking up early, getting ready, driving myself into work and starting a brand new job would be any degree of manageable. The night before, I took my regular handful of sedating drugs and my nightly bath, but then something different happened. I went to bed with more peace than I had felt in 5 months. As I fell asleep I said a prayer of gratitude. I was thankful that I no longer felt the urge to control what happened to me and that I could unreservedly rest in The Lord and His plans for my life. I could see that He had used my brokenness for something good. He had used this chapter in my life to deliver me from the prison of worry and fear. Releasing apprehension and anxiety from my daily routine was a freedom I had never had in my life. Roman 5:3-4 says, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” I was nowhere near rejoicing, but I could finally see how He was using this time in my life to transform me, and I could finally lean into my faith with confidence, because He had made himself so real to me through this trial. The weight of worry had been lifted and I felt lighter.

When I woke up the next morning I was pain free for the first time in 159 days!

I arrived at my new job and although the familiar pain visited me throughout the day, it never came close to what I had withstood day in and day out for 5 months. February 28th, 2014 was the day I finally saw a glimpse of the goodness God had in store for me and I believed God wasn’t just going to give me the strength to live through the pain…He was going to see me through to the other side, and all the while I would be made stronger through the journey. On my way home that day I called the same friend who had been my prayer warrior for so many months and I cried as soon as I heard her voice. I was so overwhelmed with disbelief that I could barely get the words out, “it’s a miracle! There’s no other way to explain it. It’s a miracle! My pain level is manageable! I’m going to be ok! I worked….I can’t believe it…I worked! God is so faithful!” It had been so long since I had been capable of functioning at this level, that I couldn’t stop repeating, “I can’t believe this!” When I walked through my parent’s front door I saw them standing in the foyer anxiously waiting for me to return. I don’t think I was able to get a word out before we were tightly holding onto each other. I realize now that they were there because they knew I would either be ready to celebrate or in urgent need of comforting. I was finally able to tell my parents that I had turned a corner and that one day I would be myself again. The gratefulness, relief and joy we all felt stunned us into silence. The following 7-8 months, I continued to have significant daily pain, but NEVER resembling those previous distressing months. I continued with medications that made me feel terrible and injections in my head to help control the pain, but none of that weighed me down because I was ecstatic to be living again and to be walking with The Lord. We moved back home and began to see our little family develop the way we had always envisioned. I felt nothing but gratitude on the days I would work long hours and then arrive home to take care of my son, because this was far more life than I thought I would ever be capable of living. Even with chronic pain, I was finally in a place where I could be a mother, I could spend time with my family and friends, I could work again!

 

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Home from work and enjoying time with my son!

With several years passing it has become easier to forget how far I’ve come and how much has changed. I must remember what I’ve survived. In 2017 and for every year hereafter, it is my desire to use these lessons in life to shift my perspective to what really matters and avoid complaining about the things that don’t. I also want to use these lessons to remain mindful of the many priceless yet mundane experiences that make up this crazy life. I want to BE PRESENT. I must always remember that right here, right now is precious and beautiful and should never be taken for granted. And, when dark times visit again (which they most certainly will in this damaged world), I must remember that no matter how torn I feel or how dark the clouds around me, The Lord has a plan for my life and it is always good. I am thankful for a testimony I can share with passion and authenticity!

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It is amazing how much can change in 3 years. God has blessed me with this beautiful family and I am forever grateful for His goodness!