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Thoughts on Suffering

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.

me and linda

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.

SHALOM

 

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His Answer

Hosea 2:21

“In that day I will respond,”
declares the Lord—
“I will respond to the skies,
and they will respond to the earth;
22
and the earth will respond to the grain,
the new wine and the olive oil,
and they will respond to Jezreel.
23
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.

SHALOM

Walking Together

ECCLESIASTES‬ ‭4:9-10‬ ‭AMP‬‬

“Two are better than one because they have a more satisfying return for their labor; for if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and does not have another to lift him up.”

Over a year ago I watched my friend minister to her mother.  She hovered over her hospital bed, fed her with spoonfulls and played sermons from her favorite preacher online.  They prayed together and she tended to her every want and need.  I watched from my side of the hospital room in awe, knowing their history, knowing God was teaching me something.

He was teaching me forgiveness.

I knew in my heart that at that point in my life, I could not do what she was doing.  I could not tend to my own mother with such care and intimacy.  I had too much pain in my heart.  Little did I know, I would actually experience the loss of my mother before she would lose her own.  While my friend was in a long-term care situation, my experience was sudden and unexpected.  Yes, my mother had been sick for a long time, but that was nothing new.  She had been around for the last 20 years with her illness, why would I expect her not to be around for 20 more?

This weekend was my friend’s first Mother’s Day without her mom.  It was on my heart to spend the weekend with her.  I really only had 8 months under my belt of walking this unique path before her, but that seemed to be enough for Holy Spirit.  Indeed He had used me to walk with her last year through this experience, while I myself was still grieving.

I myself am still grieving.

But we made it through.  We attended a women’s event that talked about friendship and sisterhood and God’s intent for both.  We dialogued about our mothers and how we were continuing their legacies.  I was in awe to see how many similarities we had with our journeys.  In so many ways we were experiencing the exact same path.

She had a list of what she wanted to do and I strived to make those things happen.  Good food, good movies, good company.  I only had one thing on my heart and that was a 90’s R&B throwback concert from a group I grew up enjoying.  I knew that if my mom were here, that’s what we would have done.

So that’s what we did.

I’ll be honest and say I cringed every time I heard those words, “Happy Mother’s Day!”.  I was annoyed every time I saw others posting their pictures of their happy families that were so full and overflowing.

There was no way around it, their cups were overflowing in an area where mine ran dry.

We made the best of what we had.  While at the concert the group we saw talked about family and having your family here with you.  Well, my friend and I had unique situations with our families.  I placed my hands on the women beside me.  They were now my family.

This season has been eye opening on many levels.  I have learned not to be presumptuous with God (a continuous lesson).  I have learned that the borders to His way are much farther out then I would have dreamed.  He does things in the way He chooses.  Especially with His chosen.

While at the church service we went to yesterday a young mother and wife shared her heart about what God was teaching her in this season of motherhood.  She had devastating events happen with her children and was wrestling with fears and insecurities and hurt.  But in the midst of those circumstances she was learning joy in the journey.  That was exactly what He has been teaching me.

Joy in the journey.

I realize He can teach His children the same lesson while walking through extremely different circumstances.  We can feel the same pain, the same loss, even though we do not have the same journey.  We are individually made and need different things to grow.  My heart is now tender towards those who experience suffering and pain from whatever source of devastation in this world.  Indeed, there seem to be so many sources.

While standing there yesterday at the church service, I marveled at God.  He walked me to this place in my journey I never thought He would allow.  My friend felt the same.  He walked us to this place and we were in shock.  Had we not been faithful?  Had we not been promised to reap?  But instead we were called to continue being pruned.  To experience what some will never experience.  At least in this area.

I worshipped at the service.  My friend did too.  We worshipped our way through the service celebrating mothers.  And when the worship leader asked only the mothers to sing, I listened for my own.  I know she is in the eternals, cheering me on.  I know she is more alive than I am at this time, and I know she is singing over me, joining all the mothers, singing over their daughters.  I had to believe that in that moment, because I did not have her to experience it in the natural.

I realize I am healing now.  There is no way I could have raised my hands the way I did at the service a year ago or even a month ago.  I would have been too afraid.  How could I open my heart to surrender all when now I know more of what the cost entails?  But I was able to.  And it is because I am healing.

He did not do things at all the way I expected.  He did things His way.  He provided family His way.  He gave provision His way.

My heart still longs for those promises He gave years ago.  It still desires what I see so many around me receiving.  But I am realizing what I have been being taught for so many years now.

I am an eternal being.

I am a citizen of heaven.

This is not my home.

But one day I will be home.  One day I will experience the fulfillment of all I desire, all that He promised.

And that has to be enough.

He has to be enough.

SHALOM

 

Thank You Tiffany

girl getting nails done

I’ve been pretty vocal about my feelings in this season of “recovery”.  I know the Father sees it as recovery though for me it has just felt sad.  Lots of negative emotions have been my experience (loneliness, broken heartedness, anxiety) and that was precisely why I ran as hard as I could away from the pain, for fear it would overtake me.

Thankfully, it hasn’t.

Thankfully I met Tiffany.

Yesterday I was living my life in a very “normal” way, and while I felt a little lighter than I had in a while, I still had no anticipation that God was ordering my steps in any particular way.  I only knew that I really needed my nails done.  Spring is here and summer quickly approaching and a girl needs to make sure she is looking her best since she is seen even more in these seasons💁🏾‍♀️😏. So I headed to the mall and chose a nail salon I’ve never attended.  At first I wasn’t even going to stay because there was a wait and I have never liked to wait (as God is very familiar with, and maybe you are too if you’ve read this blog for any significance of a time) but then I figured, “what’s 30 minutes?”

When you’ve waited years for something, 30 minutes is truly a drop in the bucket.

So finally it was my turn and I was really excited about the particular nail polish I had chosen (it is really the little things these days) and though the nail tech doing my nails was great at her craft, she wasn’t particularly conversational and I was actually uncharacteristically in the mood for a good conversation with a perfect stranger (you introverts out there know what an unusual occurrence that is).  And so when she shared she wouldn’t be able to do my pedicure because she was clocking out soon I wasn’t too disappointed.  I then followed a young woman to the pedicure station and received a really encouraging email regarding my new business (will share more on that at a later date) and was therefore consumed with following up on this new opportunity while the woman did my pedicure.  Now I was the silent one.  She made conversation and I politely responded but I was clearly distracted.  So it wasn’t until she moved me to the manicure station and polished my nails (because the previous nail tech wasn’t able to) that we engaged more.  I noticed how meticulous she was with her work and commented as such.  She responded and shared she is an artist, and that in fact she is also a writer and a poet.  I encouraged her in sharing her gifts and when she said she wanted to write books that told people’s stories to help encourage others in similar circumstances, well, I knew I had to share my own testimony of doing the same.  We engaged in a beautiful conversation about difficult seasons, as she too was in a recovery season, and I gave her some resources that have helped me as well as those I have written.  It touched my heart so much when she looked up to the ceiling and said, “OK, God, I hear you!”  Wow.  Look at God. Using me in an unlikely place at an unlikely time to encourage one of His own while I am still healing.  Still recovering.

He does great things.

One of my encouragements to this woman (who told me her name was Tiffany) was to ask God, “What good can come from this season?”  He works all things for the good so how can good come from such trauma and loss?  She nodded her head in agreement taking in every word, even as sadness laced her eyes.  I knew that sadness.  I had it myself.  But now I was feeling something new in the midst of it.  Something I hadn’t felt in a while.

I felt hope.

Hope for the future.  Speaking with Tiffany reminded me of purpose and it let me know (as I’m sure the Father intended) that He is using even my pain to help others.  See, I could not have related to Tiffany before this season.  I would have sympathized because I am an intercessor and my heart is sensitive to other’s pain naturally, but I would not have known for myself what devastation felt like.  At least, not the kind of devastation she was dealing with.  When one hard thing after another keeps happening and it gets hard to believe that good things can happen.

I left the mall yesterday smiling.  It was the first time I had smiled and felt happy without any pain in so long.

As I walked to my car, I couldn’t stop smiling.

I am so encouraged by this experience and others that have happened the last few days.  It has been an amazing week and it is only halfway through💕.

But its not even just the events themselves that have encouraged me, its the fact that I can feel joy as a response to them.

Joy in the midst of darkness.

Joy in the midst of pain.

Truly He is with us.

Here is the finished product of Tiffany’s handwork:

Thank you Tiffany.

SHALOM

Unwrapped Gifts

It’s been a whirlwind of a year and though I received so many presents during my last birthday I wasn’t able to enjoy them all.  It wasn’t until I found a few in a drawer that I even knew some had been forgotten.  I texted a friend asking if she was the one who had given me the beautiful necklace made in Africa, thinking that only she would.  She confirmed in response that, yes she did.  I have been intentional about wearing it this week.  Along with the necklace I found a couple of empty journals, a super cute luggage tag and a traveler’s guide for black women.

My friends are great.

I wrote in the journal and made a mental note to use the tag on my next trip.  I have so many gifts and yet haven’t taken time to enjoy them all.  And that led me to thinking about the spiritual applications of this natural occurrence.

What gifts am I not enjoying now?

In this season?

In these circumstances?

I started a practice of gratitude a week ago.  I decided to be intentional about being thankful for just one thing a day for 30 days.  Clearly there is more than just one thing to be thankful for daily but I felt overwhelmed and pressured with that truth.  Just choosing one thing felt doable.  I have been doing good so far, and participating in this practice has helped me to focus on the good (Phil 4:6).

I recently read, It’s Not Supposed To Be This Way, by Lysa Turkerst and in it she talks about her decision to look for something good in her season of suffering.  She physically looked around her environment until her eyes landed on something tangible.  Something that reminded her of the strength and courage she would need to face her current circumstances.

It can be challenging to look at the good when your heart is aching from various heartbreaks.  When grief and sorrow seem to follow you wherever you go, and it surprises you because it never did before.  But even when telling my story to a friend just yesterday, she reminded me of the testimony that came out of this season.  The testimony of the restoration of a mother and daughter.

Our testimony.

I was putting a gift together for a friend, and I was so excited.  I was so proud of the creativity and thoughtfulness that went into the gift.  I knew it was the Lord for me to pull it all together.  I was searching for a box to mail it in when I came across a box full of stuff my mom had.  Some things she kept.  Some keepsakes.  There were gifts I had given her for Mother’s Day and it touched me so much that she had kept them.  And that I had honored her and showed love while she was still with me physically.  I then came across a dear picture of my grandmother.  She was a teenager and oh so lovely.  I had always loved that picture and remember seeing it hanging on my nana’s (great grandmother’s) wall as a kid.  Now it’s mine💕.

In truth it had been mine for the last year, but it was hidden in a box somewhere in the basement.  Unopened.

I know I can get into this habit of asking God for more.  More of what I feel was lost or taken or withheld.  But how much would it pain me if my friend, (who I just mailed their gift to), stashed it away and left it unopened? And then asked me for another gift? When I had went through such great lengths to show her my love by giving things that would be dear to her heart?  It would be disappointing to say the least. I would definitely be hurt.

So I want to be more intentional to look around in this season and see the unopened, unwrapped presents.  I already know about the gifts I didn’t get that I wish I had.  I have expressed my sentiments on that enough.  But what about the ones I have been given that I’ve neglected?  Like my grandmother’s picture?  Why should I be given more when I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed all that I already have?

Father help me to thoroughly enjoy the gifts You have chosen to give in this season.

Amen.

 

SHALOM

The Beautiful Challenge

I’m in Arizona right now visiting friends. The same friend I was maid of honor to just last year. The same friend who has relentlessly pursued me in the course of my grief and devastation.

When I learned my mom passed away she flew in from Haiti within days. 1,633 miles. She was on a business trip and instead of returning home to be with her new husband she came to be with me.

I’ve known this woman for several years and knew that her heart was of a rare purity, one that those who have it, also have a promise to see the Father (Matt 5:8).

During a time of recovery and healing my emotions have been everywhere, my thoughts equally as such. Her understanding and loyalty have been a great comfort.

These last few days we lived. We went on a Gondola ride with her hubby. We climbed the bear willow canyon on a fierce Jeep excursion. We laid out by the pool they have in their own back yard.

In addition to that I was treated to deep pools of bubble baths, wine and delicious meals. I have been catered to. And all in the name of my birthday.

E told me a while ago that when he has a difficult day, instead of using the word difficult, he says, “It was beautifully challenging”. I can look at my life and see that same theme. So many unexpected difficult hard parts. So many amazingly beautiful ones.

Yesterday while we made our way up the mountains my breath was taken away with the deep red browns, sharp rich greens and picture perfect blue skies. If I didn’t know it before, I know it now.

God is an Artist.

I knew what I was experiencing was something my mother and grandmother never did and maybe only dreamed of. I knew that my life was touched with beauty and that beauty was connected with the people He had sent to me when I didn’t know that I would need them.

I previously asked a question, “Lord, why did you take away Your presence when I would need it most?” But now I see He provided me people when I didn’t know that I would need them. And that now is when I would need them the most.

The Father places the solitary in families. I remember reading that passage of scripture years ago. I remember back then appreciating it, but still my heart yearned for my own.

It still does.

I’m realizing this life is “both and”. It is both the highs and the lows. It is both the light and the darkness. It is both the cross and the resurrection.

I have been in a season of recovery and therefore am more sensitive than normal (who knew that was possible?). My heart is tender and I need to be handled with care. God is so good at that, handling us with care and putting us around people who get our journey. Even if they don’t understand it, they love us enough to try.

I can look back on my life and see His intent towards me. He made His call clear from day 1. The call was to die. He is intimately acquainted with all of our ways. He knows those things that are near and dear. He knows when we are truly sacrificing.

I haven’t experienced this amount of pain ever, at least not without His presence.

But even that isn’t true.

His presence is everywhere…

I am grateful for these people who call me family. I am grateful to be adopted into the Father’s household of faith.

To have Sunday dinner and eat birthday cake and hear loved ones celebrate me. Like family. That is the care and tenderness of Him.

My heart is still aching every moment of every day. But part of that I know is good. It means I’m feeling when for so long I wasn’t.

It means I’m closer to healing.

My counselor has been so great and my friends have been so great and even though I don’t know when my healing will come I know He is surrounding me with His care.

At 36 my life doesn’t look at all the way I anticipated. Still, there is beauty in the midst of brokenness.

There is love in the midst of pain.

There is hope.

SHALOM