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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.
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.
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.
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.
Then Bildad the Shuhite replied:
2 “How long will you say such things?
Your words are a blustering wind.
3 Does God pervert justice?
Does the Almighty pervert what is right?
4 When your children sinned against him,
he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.
5 But if you will seek God earnestly
and plead with the Almighty,
6 if you are pure and upright,
even now he will rouse himself on your behalf
and restore you to your prosperous state.
7 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…
10 months of bliss came to a sudden halt as a few turn of events made it clear I had to walk away. God is funny in that way, making His presence known so mightily even when He is speaking so quietly. I did the hard thing once again. But this was hard for so many other reasons than it had been in the past. Being single is one thing. Being single and jobless and grieving the loss of a loved one is another. I am in the midst of that grief and a few others and wonder often if I will come out on the other side.
As I stood in my bathroom over the sink with a bleeding heart I had one simple prayer: “God meet me here.”
And of course He did.
He made sure I wasn’t alone. Even sent a dear friend to stay with me that night which is a great comfort in an empty home. And as the difficult weekend rolled by and it became more and more apparent I was unappreciated, undervalued and taken for granted, I let the pain roll over me. I poured over scripture, listened to worship music and laid on my face. One by one 7 friends called to check on me, knowing the grief I was facing.
7 friends and 7 women who walked with me down the aisle as I laid her to rest. 7 women (and then some) who covered me as we stood near her grave. I was in a fog that day and really for several months after. I felt nothing and that was such an odd feeling to feel nothing for one who has always been such a deep feeler.
But now I am surely feeling. I felt that weekend when I chose to let him go and try to do this season without the crutch. I chose to walk the unseen path laced with doubt and uncertainty. The pain was horrible and in some ways worse then I remembered from past breakups.
I have asked God why has He allowed so much loss and trauma in such a short time? To which I feel His response has been, “I’m entrusting you with it.”
I think we can be entrusted with suffering. And there was a time I would have counted it a great honor. Even James encourages us to do so (James 1:2-4). But I have never felt pain like this. So now I don’t feel very honored.
I go to counseling tonight and I look forward to it because before when I went I was told that I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to talk about the deep things. The things of her passing and the suddenness of it and her being the only family I really had. So God gave me Time. He gave me a distraction which was sufficient. Until it wasn’t.
But now it’s time.
All of these changes happened suddenly and coincided with Rush Hashanah the Hebraic New Year and that was not lost on me since He had taught me years ago of the significance of the Hebraic calendar. It is clearly a new season.
I was driving not long ago and kept praying about this new loss but the whisper on my heart was that it was not mine but his. His loss because I am the one of great value. Not that he isn’t but I did value him, yet he did not return the favor. At least not at the very end.
I talked to my friend and told her even though it hurt like hell I’d still rather have loved and lost. To have nothing, to feel nothing is in my opinion a greater loss. I value feeling, at times overly so. But still there is value in it.
I know it’s been a while since I poured out my heart on this blog but so much has happened that vulnerability and intimacy through writing to the public felt overwhelming. Though God stays the same I’m changing and life is changing and I’m trying to navigate it all at once.
I know there is grace to navigate but that doesn’t exempt us from the pain of doing so.
As many of you know I finally have an open door in my career (hallelujiah). That open door did not look at ALL the way I expected it to and yet it still met so many desires of my heart! For years I wondered about my calling in business, particularly Accounting. My past is laced with insecurity, doubt and even trauma when it comes to crunching numbers 😫. It took a huge leap of faith for me to get an advanced degree in this field but leap I did! As a result I fully expected the outcome to be an overflow! I fully expected the doors to FLY open with promotions and financial reward! Instead they were firmly shut (womp womp).
For 3 years.
3 long years. And in their place was humility, and waiting, and grace. A lot of grace. But also in their place was a blog—this blog to be exact! And, oh yeah, a book.
This book to be exact!😉 So looking back I can see the intent and why God (once again) wanted me to wait. I can see His hand weaving and working and creating a story where the protagonist doesn’t soar her way to the top. Instead she slowly, painfully, relies on Him to get her there.
These last 3 months I have worked long and hard to get my boss’ books together. It has been a tedious task and yet I have loved every minute of it because I was FINALLY getting the experience I craved. But that goal of reconciling the numbers was ever before me and even seemed distant at times. Then all of a sudden yesterday, I reached it. It happened so quietly that I almost missed it! I had to say, “Nicole, you’re there. This is it!”
My boss shared this week he was hoping to have this done sooner and I too agreed. But in our discussion I realized that some things take time. They take time because of the work involved. When things are underdeveloped or overlooked the one in charge has to work hard to get them together.
God is working hard on me. On us. There are areas of our lives we have been ignorant of but He has seen it all, and He has set out to complete that work, no matter how long it takes!
And when He does there will be a sweet satisfaction in knowing you endured the process and that you made it through exactly the way He wanted you to! Not necessarily the way you envisioned–but the way He did.