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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

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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

 

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

High-Highs, Low-Lows

It’s the New Year.  And normally I would do a summary of the old year.  I would reflect on all He had done and how He had moved and how far I had come.  But I won’t do that this year.  Not because He hadn’t moved and He hadn’t done and I hadn’t come.  But because it still hurts.

When I think about this season I realize it is the pattern He has always used with me.  A series of high-highs and low-lows.  Except the lows were exceptionally low this time.  And maybe, in some sense, the highs were exceptionally high.  I guess it is a result of the advancement in the journey.  The “greater levels” Church culture speaks of.

I ended 2018 on a “high” note.  I spent 2 weeks in the Caribbean with a dear sister and friend.  A woman who has been by my side for over 20 years.  We are amazed at that fact by the way!  She is the only one who “knew me then”, and I her.  She was the one who stayed the longest when my mom moved on to glory and she was the one my mom loved the most.  Growing up she didn’t have a close family and unbeknownst to me, mine became hers.  My grandmother and mother invested in her immensely and I don’t doubt that the fruit of her accomplishments and successes will be distributed to their heavenly accounts.

As we traveled to Mexico and then Honduras and then Belize, I thought about these great women who came before us.  They were the reason we could lay on white sandy beaches, swim in clear blue waters, ride on beautiful stallions and visit the Mayan Ruins.  They were the reason we could live life so abundantly.

So often I think back on my childhood.  I realize there is no one on this planet who will appreciate it as much as those two women.  Who will “oooh” and “awww” over my baby pictures.  Who will be more excited then me for my next birthday.

These are the lows.

I realize I must process it all in order to move forward.  Healing can only come through truth.  And the truth is, life is both.  It is high and low.  It is dark and light.  And I don’t know if we really appreciate the light unless there is darkness.

After my cruise I met with a different sort of companion.  We exchanged late Christmas gifts and made up for our time apart.  We watched movies and had dates and went ice skating.  It was clear the Father was giving me what I longed for, for so long.  And on New Years Eve, I got my New Years’ kiss.  Something I had never before experienced.  Another high.

 

 

I was asked what I wanted in 2019.  What was my goal?  What did I want to accomplish?  “Healing”, I said.  Knowing it was not necessarily what I wanted, but what I needed.

“Healing and restoration”.

I have always been someone very sensitive to times and seasons.  I was excited to see how the Father was working in my life in the earth.  I enjoy seeing the purpose of numbers and calendars (both Hebraic and Gregorian), but time seemed to have stopped this past year.  And maybe if it didn’t necessarily stop, it didn’t seem to matter as much.

Going into this new season I look forward to building my business.  I have already received my first paycheck which overwhelms me with encouragement.  I look forward to enjoying my loved ones and being grateful for those who are here to offer comfort and support in this journey.  I truly don’t deserve the love they have demonstrated.

 

And I look forward to the moments I have with him.  The man who treats me better than any man has ever treated me before.

The Father is full of surprises.  He knows those hard things and though He doesn’t exempt us from them He offers support and strength as we walk through them.  Through it all I know one thing is certain, He is there.  And He cares.

SHALOM.

 

 

 

Panera

I stood in one of my favorite places.  Panera.  Not sure why but I’ve always found comfort in its wooden booths, warm fire place, and doughy aromas.  At least, I have since grad school.  This particular location was truly a reminder of my time in school because it was the very one I often visited near the campus.

I stood there and had flashbacks of working diligently, pouring over debits and credits for hours on end, and drinking lattes to stay energized.  So many hours and months and years, working towards a goal I would eventually achieve: my MBA in Accounting.  But while I was driven and excited and encouraged at this endeavor, I still felt the longing of a single soul awaiting companionship. 

The longing burned within me.

No matter what I did to ignore it, it lingered.  I thought about this and how many years have passed.  On that day at Panera I didn’t feel the intense, burning, longing that I felt in my 20s, and even in my early 30s, but I still felt…alone.

I liken my desire for a romantic relationship to fasting.  When first starting a fast the hunger of food feels overwhelming and the task nearly impossible.  Yet as time goes on the desire simmers.  It’s still there, but it feels “dulled”.

With fasting, you learn how to be full off less.

The stomach shrinks and with it so does your mindset.  As a friend once told me when not having enough for a meal, “Well, there’s always water.” She said this because she has experienced several 21-day “liquid only” fasts.

Water becomes enough.

Memory after memory visited me as I waited for my order.  The painful ones.  The hard ones.  I thought about how time had moved but my circumstances had not.  I also thought about the guy I had met recently.  We were in the early stages of getting to know each other and I had not yet received a phone call.  I started debating on initiating the call but decided against it.  That just wasn’t me.  Within moments I felt my phone vibrate.  It was him.

We talked that night for the first time.  I sat and ate my food while looking out the window and being very much aware of the Father’s provision.  I had reached a place of understanding that we do not always get what we desire in this life.  We are not promised that.  I understood self denial and waiting and humbling one’s self for the sake of the kingdom.  In fact, I am still learning those lessons.  However I think there are new lessons He is teaching me, hence He is moving in a new way.  Because in that moment, while sitting in Panera, looking out the window and having the first of many to come conversations with a man who has great purpose in my life, I knew the Lord was saying, “See Nicole, your circumstances are changing.”

And more importantly, “Nicole, you are not alone”.

To prove it He brought me, Emmanuel…

SHALOM

Nothing Like Job’s Friends

Job 8

Then Bildad the Shuhite replied:

“How long will you say such things?
    Your words are a blustering wind.
Does God pervert justice?
    Does the Almighty pervert what is right?
When your children sinned against him,
    he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.
But if you will seek God earnestly
    and plead with the Almighty,
if you are pure and upright,
    even now he will rouse himself on your behalf
    and restore you to your prosperous state.
Your beginnings will seem humble,
    so prosperous will your future be

In the above passage Job’s friend Bildad is responding to Job’s suffering in the only way he knows how.  He is seeing through his lense.  He is pulling on the information that he has thus far acquired in his life journey and offering that as a resolution.  The only problem, is he is wrong.

Bildad had never been through anything Job was going through at the time, thus he was not qualified to offer advise or counsel or insight.  Unfortunately he was not wise enough not to know this.  And so he spoke out of his ignorance.  He put the blame on Job.  He made it seem like it was something Job had done to experience all of this loss.  That is the deception in religion.  It puts the burden on the person, instead of giving it back to Christ to carry for us…(Matthew 11:30).

In this difficult season I have been navigating I’m so grateful to have people around me, friends around me, who are nothing like Job’s friends.  They do not speak on areas they are not familiar with.  We have all had our difficulties, but none of us are the same.  I have never been through a divorce or faced a physical life threatening illness or lost a child.  And so it would be inappropriate for me to speak on these things.  And even if I had gone through these things I would have had my own experience with them, so what may have helped me through those hardships may not help another person.  My counselor told me something similar recently: we are all different and no two people respond the same to similar circumstances.

I remember the morning of her funeral, 5 women were in my home, waiting.  They were silent.  They were silent because they were sensitive to my needs.  And really, what could be said?  They sat in silence as we road in the limo.  And I felt very much like none of this was happening.  Like I was watching everything happen around me but I wasn’t really apart of it.

Job’s friends were silent initially.  They were silent for 7 days and then they opened their mouths and spoke about things they knew nothing about.  I’m glad that was not my experience.  How painful is it to endure such difficult circumstances and then on top of that to feel condemned and accused and persecuted from your loved ones?

I have had some experiences where selfishness and judgement have been tossed my way and it has been hurtful.  But even those experiences have been few and far between and never from my core circle.  For that I am grateful.

I also know there have been times I have been the judge.  I have been the one condemning and pointing the finger and saying the wrong thing.  I’m grateful for a repentant heart and an increase in self awareness.  I’m grateful for growth.

Pain is a delicate thing.  And when faced with it hearts are tender and should be handled carefully.

I was told last night from a new friend that I am a safe place for him.  He has been through lots of pain and I am honored to be a safe place for someone who has experienced that much pain.

But I know to be safe has to be learned.  I learned it from the women around me and from Holy Spirit using them.

They are nothing like Job’s friends…

SHALOM