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Today I got to spend the day with a woman who has been used greatly in my family. Decades ago she became one of my grandmother’s very best friends. When my grandmother passed away, she was there, standing in the gap. She and my own mother grew closer and I knew she was like a surrogate mom for my mother. A godmother. Since my mom passed away, she has been faithful in sending me cards and pictures and other tokens of her affections. Always reverencing their love for me (my mother and grandmother), reminding me of what I struggle so often to remember.
That I am loved.
Today she spoke about her battle with breast cancer. She has in fact battled this disease three times. She was honest in her speech, sharing that yes, emotionally she struggled with this 3rd diagnosis.
“Lord, again? Haven’t I already been through this? Haven’t I already passed the test?”
This resonated with me greatly, as I thought about my own journey in waiting, and relationships, and surrender.
“Lord, haven’t I already passed this test?” I’ve wondered so often.
But His answer to her may not be the answer you hear in the pulpit, or online, or at a popular mega church, because it’s not a popular message.
It’s a message of the cross.
“Yes daughter,” He says to her. “But I got you! I got you!”
I am discovering that one can experience and overcome various tests, trials and tribulations. Even in the same area. They can have those experiences and keep going through them. Again, and again, and even again.
We see this in the Bible. What does God say to Paul when he asks to have the thorn removed from him three times?
“Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:8)
And even with Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, crying out to the Father to remove His cup.
“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, ‘Sit here while I go and pray over there.’ And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me. He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.’ (Matt 26:36-39).
I can’t imagine the depth of sorrow Christ felt to ask to be removed from this experience of physical suffering. I can only imagine it must have been so great because He also knew all the world would be saved through it, and yet it was so painful that He still did not want to experience it.
And in both cases (Paul and Christ’s) God basically said, “My will is for you to suffer.”
We do not like suffering. Our flesh hates it. Whether it is physical, emotional or mental. When we are hungry we want food. When we are tired we want sleep. When we have to use the restroom we find the nearest toilet. We do not like being uncomfortable. And suffering is, in my opinion, the worst kind of uncomfortable.
But suffering in the kingdom, is highly regarded. We cannot get away from that fact, and any gospel that is preached without the teaching of suffering is erroneous.
2 Timothy 2: “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him…
One of my struggles in this season is not the teaching of suffering. I think I understood that early on in my faith, that I would need to do hard things for Him. That I would need to lay down my life. But I didn’t know about long suffering. I didn’t know about the lengths and depths that He could call one to. I didn’t know that He could call you over and over (and even over) again to experience difficult circumstances. And I didn’t know He could give you power to sustain you through it.
I got to speak with some women today who are related to my grandmother’s friend. They too are in seasons of recovery from loss, grief and trauma. They too are overcoming things they never imagined they would go through. And I can see the changes. I can see there is more humility, there is more kindness. Our hearts are tender now…
Suffering changes you. But if you know Him, it can change you for the good. He can work it for the good…
When Paul cries out to have his thorn removed, we find out why God said ‘no’.
“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure (2 Cor 12:7).
He was humbled through this thorn. He was sustained by His grace.
I realize the Father has been after something in me in this season. Something that I didn’t know was there. It was distrust.
I have known that the way I have related to the Father has always been intimate and passionate, zealous and possessive (on both sides). Yes, I have loved Him. But I have consistently struggled with trusting Him.
Looking back on my journey, I would trust Him to a certain extent. And with my singleness I would only trust Him up until a certain number of years (we have passed that number of years by the way). Of course, consciously I was not aware I was doing this. But He knew.
At the service today my friend Linda testified about her “thorn”. She testified that the Father would not remove it, but that He would keep her through it. She also testified that she would worship anyway.
Wow. To worship Him anyway. Even after the third time. That is the faith He is after. That is the call for His chosen.
I am grateful that even in my pain and grief and anger, He has never changed. His love and loyalty are steady and even though I don’t experience the high feelings of emotions I did all those years in my journey, I sense His love as strongly as I used to.
And for the first time, in such a long time, I trust Him.
I trust Him like I used to. I trust Him like I did as a babe. I trust Him like before the tests and trials. Before the losses and setbacks. Before the confusion over my identity. I trust Him. Because now I can see (as I have in the past but forgot) that He really is for me. That His choices really are in my best interest. Especially when it comes to relationships.
He protects me. Like a good father does His child.
I am His.
What I know now, that I didn’t know earlier in my faith, was that His way somehow feels/is harder and at the same time protects. I also did not know that His way does not negate (long) suffering. That though He is for me, pain is inevitable. And in life pain is inevitable. But at-least with Him it can be used for our good.
Because in order to reign with Him we must suffer.
That is the cross. That is being a disciple. That is being His.
“In that day I will respond,”
declares the Lord—
“I will respond to the skies,
and they will respond to the earth;
and the earth will respond to the grain,
the new wine and the olive oil,
and they will respond to Jezreel.
I will plant her for myself in the land;
I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’
I will say to those called ‘Not my people, ‘You are my people’;
and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”
I have had this word on my heart for a while and felt that I needed to write it down. In my process of recovering from a very difficult season, I often look back (almost daily) and I wonder why the Father orchestrated certain events in my life in the manner that He did. I all too often compare and see how He blessed “so and so” with this or that and yet chose not to for me. I am very well aware of the scripture that cautions us not to compare, yet and still, it happens.
It’s so easy to quote scripture when you are growing in your faith. It’s easy to know the word logically, it’s quite another story to actually walk His path out. To apply His teachings to your life’s journey. Day in. Day out. For years.
I remember when my friend started dating her now husband, she talked about having all of this book knowledge about dating beforehand, but how difficult it was to use that knowledge when she finally had the opportunity. She said it was like being on a sports team and learning the plays before the game, then she got in the game and forgot the plays. That resonated with me. How often do we forget to apply the knowledge that we have accumulated in those “high” season of faith, when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death?
And maybe it’s not that we forget. Maybe its just that we are in too much pain to do so.
I have sought the Father on His way of doing things in my journey, even so recently as this morning during quiet time. “Father, why did you do it this way? Why did you ‘bend’ to your people in times past and not for me now?” Indeed, I could think of several scriptures where I saw that He would give the people what they wanted, even if it was not what He wanted. Never mind that they ended up being worse off in the end. I just wanted some kind of relenting from this thorn in my side.
But in my time of prayer I was reminded of what He is teaching our fellowship in the spiritual school we are in. He is teaching us, that in all things, to give thanks. So as hard as it was, I started doing that. Memories of how He manifested Himself in those final days with my mother flooded my heart. How He led her to repentance. How He gave us time. Every trip she made us go on. The Bible Study He gave that we attended together. His presence during that time. He made Himself so manifest even though I didn’t know why. Now I can look back and say, He did it for me.
He did it for us.
There is so much pain still in my heart that I am working through. So many mornings I wake up and think of them. My family. My mom. My grandmother. I am still in shock that this is the path. This is the outcome of all those years of faith. And yet, when I give thanks, I see that He did not forsake me. He did not leave me alone, even though I have felt so very alone.
I wrote in a journal entry recently, “Singleness has been a thorn in my side these 15 years, but it has not killed me”. That was the truth. It has been difficult and challenging. Painful and lonely. Hard and led to much hope deferred. But it did not kill me.
He does things His way. That is what I am learning. He answered in His way. He gave me my own business in response to my former employer persecuting me. He gave me time with my mom when I didn’t know our time was limited. He gave me an amazing companion in a season of singleness when loss was faced on several fronts. He gave me sisters when I did not have close family. He gave me financial provision when I didn’t have steady income.
He answered. He just didn’t answer in the way I wanted Him to. He did not take away the thorn.
Instead He gave grace for it.
I’m grateful for His provision. I’m grateful for the women in my life who are there through thick and thin. I’m grateful for the Holy Spirit who’s mercies are new every morning.
He does not give up on us. He does not leave us alone.
Thank You Father for Your answer.
I know that I am not worthy of even that.
Today is my 36th birthday. When I look back on my life journey these 35 years (and 1 day) I have lots of thoughts and feelings. I am in awe of how the Father manifested Himself to me as a 19-year-old. Even though I believed since I was a child, it wasn’t until college that my intimacy with Him exploded from being a believer, to becoming a follower.
For 13 years straight, everyday, I woke up to intimacy. It was an intimacy I had never known. It was what caused me to leave my fiancé, move in with my mom, and wait for the next steps. As a college grad that is what He told me to do, so that is what I did.
I did not know then, that that was just the beginning. That along with His intimacy, I would learn sacrifice. I would learn that,
I am so blessed to have had such an amazing experience with the Most High. That He would count me, a lowly black woman of a single parent home, born out of wedlock, to a hardworking family who made ends meet by whatever means necessary.
That He would call me, Daughter.
I counted it an honor to be His child. To receive His love when I was so undeserving. I counted it an honor to be His. And in the midst of a dark and broken world full of pain, I was sheltered. Not that I myself hadn’t experienced pain, but He was always there. Showing me how to overcome it.
Applauding me when I did.
In the midst of that journey, He was producing something in me. He was creating wholeness and a legacy that is still to be revealed. At the same time, He was teaching me something.
He was teaching me how to suffer long.
In this season the lessons have intensified. The stakes have gotten higher. No longer have I wanted to be a student in what felt like an advanced course. No longer did I want to die.
I realized, while standing at my mother’s grave last month that the path will always be too difficult. There is a strength in me, an inner strength. And it has been passed down in my bloodline from one woman to the next (our family is made up of strong women). But no matter how strong I have been, I do not have the capacity to make this climb in and of myself. It will always be too difficult for me. I need Him.
In so many ways, now is my future. As a teenager when I laid down my life for Him and surrendered my passions and desires, I hoped for my future. I hoped for what is now. I had an idea and an expectation of what that now would look like. I believed “If I do things Your way, then eventually You’ll do things my way”. But He doesn’t. It is His way.
Always His way.
This last season has changed me. Trauma does that. In some ways it is a good change. Now I know the compassion of Christ like I have never known it before. Now I know what grace really is. It sustains you when you face your darkest fears. It covers you when you make your greatest mistakes.
I was talking to E recently and I told him that every year it rains on my birthday. As much as I love birthdays and I love to celebrate, its discouraging that every year it either rains or snows in Cleveland, Ohio. “It is at least always grey,” is what I said to him. E being the eternal optimist responded, “But what if it isn’t? What if its sunny and warm?” I just shook my head at him and rolled my eyes. “I have been on this planet for 35 years and every year it is rainy and cold. Trust me. I know.”
It is going to be 52 degrees today and sunny. 52 degrees in Cleveland, Ohio on April 3rd. It has never been 52 degrees in my recollection of birthdays. Ever.
I miss my mom. I miss her because she was always the one who celebrated the loudest. I miss her because I never imagined she would not be in my future. She would not be in the now.
But it is 52 degrees today. And I am enough of a prophet to know when He is showing me something. “The season is changing”, E said. And my heart lifted a little. But not too much, for fear that it would be broken again, but just enough to where I was open. Kind of like me saying, “If that is the case God, then show me”.
I welcome a change in season but struggle with expecting it. I have had so many false expectations and did not realize it until they did not come to pass. I guess that is apart of maturing.
I will spend time with loved ones today. I’m keeping a small circle because my heart can’t handle a large one. There are already people celebrating my birth and that is such a blessing when the one who gave birth to me is no longer present.
I’m grateful for His provision and His sustaining power. It really is supernatural that I have never went without, even when I have not had a job. I’m grateful for Him teaching me so many things in the past and maturing me to this point. I would not have become the woman I am today had I not listened to His leading, especially when I didn’t agree with it.
I know that He is faithful and right and true. It has just been difficult after such a long journey to trust. Job was able to trust even though he was being slayed. That is the level of faith I feel He has required.
I’m grateful He is more gentle with me than with Job. He handles me with care. Even in the midst of the storms and tests, He protects, only allowing so much, though it was more than I would have preferred. He surrounds me with His people and meets me with His Word.
He guides me with His eye.
I am grateful for the foundation He laid, to sustain me through the journey. We can never fully comprehend what lies ahead. But we know that He is there. Always there.
Now is my future. And I don’t know what the next season holds. But I can look back and see He has always sustained me.
And I know that is one expectation I am safe to have.
There are memories now. They catch me off guard when they make their way from subconscious to consciousness. From the recesses and dark crevices of my mind. From back then to now as if now were just minutes from then, instead of years.
The memories consist of her and I, always alone. And though the situations and circumstances change, the thing that stays the same is my longing for more.
I remember we were at someone’s wedding reception. It was one of her friend’s kid’s. We had been to so many it’s hard for me to remember who’s what we went to. But I do remember we were there, and how much I wanted my own.
I was 27 then, around the age where elders told me I was an old maid, but when the average of my generation were just pairing up. Marrying off and settling down to have their children. Apparently millennials were waiting longer to get married.
Still, I’m pretty sure they didn’t wait this long.
At this particular gathering we had a good time. We put on those silly costumes and masks and dressed up for the photo booths so many people have at these parties. We were mother and daughter and this was a moment of bonding. It wasn’t easy back then, celebrating for others when my own desire nawed relentlessly from the inside, but I did it. Because I had hope.
I remember sitting by her side, at the park, discussing our future. Or rather my future. It was unsaid that mine was really hers and that she would be there when our dreams were fulfilled. My dreams were her dreams so I think it’s safe to say they were ours. We sat there and talked about my grandma and I felt the pain of there just being us 2. I thought nothing could be worse then there just being us 2.
I was wrong.
I read C.S Lewis’, “A Grief Observed” recently. I read it within 2 days. I highlighted every other page, text messaged my friends the parts that resonated and then gifted my pastor her own copy. She is grieving too.
I was so in awe of Lewis’ transparency. I couldn’t believe a theologian scholar could be so in touch with his emotions, and that he could adequately express exactly how I feel in this season. (To me) It’s like he’s swinging at God, taking punches. The religious mind would be horrified at such a picture but I think once a level of suffering is experienced, one understands that God Himself gets it, allows it, and just dodges the swings.
A flood of questions have come to my mind since I stopped running. They take turns pouring out like the memories that push themselves to the front of my mind. Mostly they start with, “Why”.
Why did You do it this way?
Why did you take Your presence away when I would need it most?
Why could you not have just said ‘yes’?
I’ve been on this journey long enough to know He is not entitled to us. He does not have to answer to us. But sometimes, He wants to. Sometimes (and in my case, most times) He responds because we are in relationship together. So I keep asking the questions even though I don’t have many answers. Still, I think apart of Him (and maybe all of Him) is happy I have made this step.
Now atleast we are talking and I am not running.
At least not as fast.
I’ve been playing chess off and on for 15 years now. I remember in high school a coworker at an after school job taught me the game. He was 30+ my senior. I won after the first game. I started playing online at college and my then boyfriend and I enjoyed playing with his glass-piece set. Those were good times.
The cool thing about chess is that the harder your opponent, the greater the opportunity you have to improve.
I played with a friend one summer and every time I beat him. Every time. It may seem odd but I realized then that it wasn’t fun winning all the time. I realized it was because I wasn’t being challenged. Not everyone enjoys a challenge but I definitely do.
Now I play with Emmanuel and have finally met my match. He wins most of the time. And while there’s a part of me that hates to lose, there’s a greater part that strives to win. I have become a better chess player playing with him. I’ve started learning how he thinks. One sure way to beat your opponent is to out think them.
Yesterday at fellowship I was thinking about chess. And I was thinking about how we are all like different pieces on the chess board. Each piece has its own way of moving and not every piece can do what the other pieces do. For instance, a knight can only move in an “L” shape while a rook can only move horizontal and vertical. I was thinking how I felt limited in my movements in life. There are certain boundaries the Father has placed and I have struggled against them. I have looked around and compared and have been frustrated, feeling confined while others appear free.
Within moments of me having these thoughts the prophetic came. I was told that I am a jewel to the Father and that I cannot do what others do. I have questioned Him on this and He is saying they are the boundaries placed because I am the standard. All of this was confirmed in my heart, but still I have been frustrated. The call has seemed too great. The standard too high. How can I be the standard in my place of weakness?
But even now I am reminded that when we are weak, He is strong.
I shared these things with Emmanuel. I told him about the chess pieces and feeling like a knight, limited in my movements. He looked at me lovingly and with care. “You are right that there are only certain moves you can make, even the Queen cannot do what a knight can do. But really you are not a knight, but a queen”.
I was blessed by his affirmation though I fought to deny it. Sometimes it’s easier to minimize our role when the road gets so tough. But I remember the Father giving me the same word 2 years ago when I needed it so I knew it rang true.
And really we are all Kings and Queens in His kingdom.
Have you ever liked someone so much that you bent over backwards for them? You stretched and stretched yourself, trying to prove your worth and value. Trying to get them to see how amazingly, awesome and perfect you are? And how you can fulfill every idea of a partner they could possibly have?
Been there, done that.
And I know I’m not the only one. I’ve talked to other women who have been dangled on a string of hopes and dreams never to come to fruition, while the one doing the dangling watched with amusement as you danced and twisted yourself into idealized versions of femininity.
To be fair, we have a choice in these types of relationships (or situationships). We choose to be treated a certain way. Even when its less than what we deserve. But still, we make that choice. And why do we make that choice? I think the underlying truth is, we don’t think we can do better.
I remember walking in the movie theater coming from the bathroom, fighting back tears. I was with my mom and I had learned some news about the guy I was seeing. I had learned he was out with someone else. That fact probably wouldn’t have hurt as much if he had not been resistant to taking me out.
Why am I not good enough to be taken on a date? I wondered. I eyed myself in the bathroom mirror, studying my reflection. Was I not pretty enough? Did I not dress well enough? Was I not fun enough?
Why was I not enough?
These are the insecurities I am coming to realize so many women share. We compare ourselves with each other and with society’s standard of beauty. We think we are “too this” and “not enough that”. And then we get involved with others who send us the same message more than likely because of their own insecurities. At least in my situation that was the case.
Thank God I made it out of that situation. It took me a while, but I did. And I was so scared to let it go because I did not think I could do better. In fact, I prepared myself to be alone. I knew how to be alone and that was my comfort zone. Not necessarily my preference but at least it was familiar.
But I didn’t have to be alone. Because as soon as I closed one door (very shortly after) another one opened. And then I learned that there are men who are secure enough in themselves to value a woman. There are men who are mature enough to treat a woman according to her worth. And there are men available who will set the standard for what a real gentleman is.
After having this experience with a real man I know that I will never settle again.
I know that I am worth being treated well.
I know that I am worth the royal treatment.
And so are you.
1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Psalm 139:14 “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful…”