Mom Fails & Redemption – Coffee Grounds & Grace

It happened again today. That “feel good about parenting” meme popped up on Facebook and told me a list of so many things to do that will somehow magically insure that my sons grow up wise and loved, nurtured and adored. Because this is what love looks like. This is what mothering looks like, idiot.

Apparently? It was the formula that mattered, in the long-run. It seemed those who could somehow master the formula could expect to produce the most wonderful children and those who didn’t?

Well, we just didn’t.

Guilt and shame preserved, laid up for the later years. Like rows of Grandma’s green beans on a shelf, all the ways I have failed are lined up for inspection in stark contrast to the pastel-tinted, fancy-font description of a type of motherhood that looks nothing like me then or now.

In the beginning, we thought we had a formula. Insert Famous Baby Rearing Method Here was the answer to all the uncertainty of infancy and parenting. It was ideal for me. I could easily obsess about feeding times and sleep v. wake times. Demand obedience, the first time, as page after page, checklist after checklist, I determined to get an A on the “Parenting Test”.

Do as I say. I am the authority. I am the boss of you. Rigid and right. Fearful.

“This is what it means to be a mother”, I was told. “This is the method for producing children who are wise and loved, nurtured and adored.”

So I did all the things for all those years, blindly pursuing the ideal and confident that the thing I was doing was going to produce those results.

This + this = Result.   Guaranteed.

Except it didn’t.  When I realized it wasn’t working the way the book promised, the way the people around me who attended the classes and seminars assured me, the blinders began to slip.

And the damage began to emerge.  I had very compliant children who flinched when I got loud.  Children who hid their desires and fears, their hopes and frustrations from me.  I had raised children who could put on a show but avoided me at home.

“Dear God, what have I done?”

“What can I do now?”

“How do I make this right?”

But there aren’t any really easy answers, are there, for the things we’ve done?

You can’t turn back the clock and undo the shouting, the unnecessary anger, the hypocritical mantra of “first-time obedience” from people who won’t even consider an offering unless it’s Super Special.  Who are incapable of obeying even the simplest commands to love one another as we had been loved.

His little body, from his round cheeks down to his chubby little belly was covered in coffee grounds. Big brown eyes, wide open and frightened, stared back at me as I surveyed the damage.

Not even 24 hours into our new house, no washing machine, no idea where the towels even were at that moment, and his little brother sleeping in their room on a playpen we’d hastily put up.

He knew.

He knew I would over-react. He knew it would be harsh. He knew me.

He was afraid.

I wish I could tell you  I responded to the dirty diaper, the exhausted toddler who had been living on the road for 3 weeks, and the chaos of our life by sitting down and taking a breath.

I would give nearly anything to relive that moment and comfort the little one trembling on a chair, one hand into the coffee maker, the other full of grounds.

We’d laugh about the mess and he’d get a warm bath while I cleaned him up. Who cares if we have to hand wash some stuff in the sink? We could stand, side by side, and I would kiss his silk soft little head holding him soft and tender against me.

I’d like to remember those moments that way, but I can’t.

I demanded my child should behave like the grown up I was unwilling to be. He should have known better. He should have controlled himself (really?). He should have… So I didn’t have to.

There was a part of his heart that died toward me that day and our rebuilding has taken years and apologies and forgiveness offered and prayer. Lots and lots of prayer.

That wasn’t the first time I damaged the relationship with my kids under the guise of “discipline” and it certainly wasn’t the last.  How could I discipline them when I rejected the Lord’s discipline and refused to discipline myself?

Tonight…

“Mom, just one song? I really want to do music with you!”

“You inspire me, Mom. Are you going to write something? I can’t wait to read it and see what you weave together.”

“Good night, Mom. I love you.”

I ache for all the wasted time. The broken years. The stolen moments. My arms miss the feel of those little bodies snuggled deep and close and sometimes I find myself imagining the gift of one more time when I could share this intense desire to protect them and kiss away tears instead of the horrific phrase, “Suck it up!” that I most often snapped out like some kind of emotional whip when they struggled.

God is redeeming the meaning of family to us. One apology at a time. One request for forgiveness at a time.  I have learned that the only way to restore what has been destroyed by my own hands is to walk, every day, willing to repent and apologize, ask forgiveness,  allow the children I adore to express their disappointment, disillusionment, frustration, and anger against me.   Not just allow it but own it.  I tore my house down with my own hands.  They are actually helping me rebuild it.

We heal a little more each time I am willing to still myself by sitting down, near but quiet, while they wrestle with far greater things than coffee grounds.

It is a reflection of God’s heart and His hand deep at work in the lives of my children that we can love one another now. I do not have the family I deserve.

Grace goes way beyond that.

Sour Then Sweet – A Tale of Learning To Love

Earlier that day we’d talked long and intensely about how to engage with people while we live our daily lives. Does it matter to “establish a rapport” or should we just talk and “share the love of Jesus” no matter where we are? What if our zeal for loving others can be misunderstood as something absolutely not what we intended.

Should opportunities to care about someone, even a complete stranger require the following caveat?

“No, I am not hitting on you because I am interested in you as a person. I really just like people and Jesus loves you so much.”

The discussion was long, often heated on both sides of the aisle. Plenty of opportunities for humility and grace were ignored as we waged a tiny little war for integrity. So, we belabored the point. We stretched definitions. We raised our opinions, and beat each other over the head and shoulders with insight and scripture. The house filled with tears and frustration, deep breaths and walking away. We aren’t good at this yet.

The conversation wasn’t to say it is ever wrong to talk to someone but seeking the wisdom of how to speak to the world around us is a treasure worth fighting for and we were all hunting for Truth.

What does it mean to love someone? What does it mean to share the love of Jesus with your fellow man? Isaiah 58. What does it mean?

We went for a drive. All our hearts a bit battered and bruised. The normally joking voices in the back seat were muted. Under the sound of the GPS my mama heart was hurting, his father’s heart was longing for peace.

Carefully, we began to relax and conversation flowed  as we drove to a few nearby lakes, helped a turtle cross the road, dodged a bunny, watched an osprey fish, but eventually we began to flirt again with the unresolved ideas that never had really stopped happening in our thoughts.

One last lake. A little park we hadn’t been to before, bright green and a bit overgrown in the light of the sun setting over wooded hills. Fishermen and splashing dogs, a few kayaks on the water, a group of young people, cheap beer in hand, friendly smiles all around. Hummingbird sized mosquitoes. We walked the edge of the lake while the last bits of the puzzle came into place and humility and grace met intensity and passion until there was a single unified family once again.

In the last few minutes of the evening, at the end of a day with more questions than answers, we turned and headed home.

Down the rocky trail, past the dock, creaking across the boardwalk pathway, slapping away mosquitoes. Brian and Isaac walking ahead shoulder to shoulder while Dillon and I followed talking about how to be willing to hear from anyone what the Spirit might be saying and not disregard the lessons we can learn any day from anyone.

Slouching in a dirty purple t-shirt, brown hair scraggly around a sunburned face, she looked down and away when we approached. All their belongings piled, organized with military precision, and tied down tight onto two overpacked shopping carts. A shovel and a hoe tied to the side of one, tarps covering it all, and his intense eyes surveyed the little park they had wandered into. The white muzzled  little black dog stretched to the end of her leash, guarding her people, her home on wobbly wheels, while the brown dog stayed on her blanket under the cart alternating between watchful and just tired. Desperation and exhaustion rolled off them in waves.

Dillon and I caught up with Isaac and Brian as they struck up a conversation.  Eventually, we heard how they had been walking for days.

Days.

Pushing these heavy carts from one town to the next on back roads and side roads. Up and down hills.  Always moving.

Everything they owned piled high. All they felt they could carry close at hand as they searched out a new place to be.

Thankful it wasn’t raining.

“Do you have a cigarette?” he asked, hopeful.   “I’m sorry. We don’t smoke.” I said, awkwardly.   I wanted to give them something.   We don’t have cash. We don’t have food. Giving them the last bit of a jug of lemonade we’d all been drinking out of seemed foolish.

“Where are you headed?”

He gave us the name of the next town over and asked how far it was.

“Two-three miles?”

She visibly deflated, putting her head down on top of the cart in front of her 5′ frame.   Obviously,  the thought of another day of walking and pushing carts was more than her nearly middle aged chubby frame could handle. His thin shoulders straightened as he tried to make sense of the news and a tan, dirty hand clenched, the wedding ring flickering a bright silvery gold in the fading light.

We walked off with a half-hearted “God bless you” feeling like that was a pathetic way to leave anyone.

We had a friend’s truck. As we walked toward it, an idea sparked in us. Could we fit the carts in the back and take them to the next town? Staying in the park overnight wasn’t safe or legal and them walking another day when we could at least offer them that bit of assistance?   Should we?

What if it was a scam and they’d…. What if?

We found some rope. We stopped and prayed and then Brian and the boys walked back to ask if we could offer them a ride.

I didn’t hear the conversation, myself.  He said we were a…. “miracle”.  We didn’t feel very miraculous yesterday, of all the days.

She was quiet but seemed relieved. Even the dogs weren’t snarky anymore.

As I wandered over,  I saw him squat down on the ground, the palms of his hands pressed against his eyes.  I caught the very last bit of a prayer, his voice rough and scratchy.

“… bless these people.”

He prayed for us. Brian and Isaac gathered them up in the truck and drove them to a small hotel where he said they could afford to stay a night while Dillon and I started walking down the road laughing about our “Great Adventure” while praying that the Lord would fill the car with His love and peace.

“So, was it ok?” I asked Brian when we were all comfortably cruising down the road, up and down the very hills they had walked.

“They said it was a hard day today. Someone called 911 and the ambulance came because they were so worn out. The medics gave them some Gatorade but they didn’t have to go to hospital.”

We all got quiet.

“He hugged me. Then apologized because he hasn’t had a shower in a week. Like I cared?” Brian offered.

“Mom, I got their phone number. Maybe we can get in touch with them again? Bring them a meal or something?”

“That would be great. Maybe we could meet up somewhere and treat them to dinner. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

All the rest of the way home we made plans for how we would plan to spend time with our new friends, Matthew and Tina.

Just like that, all the questions had answers.

This is what it means to love someone. This is what it means to show Jesus to our fellow man. We serve one another. Any way we can. We show kindness and compassion. In the most gentle, brilliant way, God answered all our questions and honored all our wrestling. Is there a need? Can I meet some of it? If I can, how could I ever walk away?

This is love.

Isaiah 58:6-7

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

and break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry

and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood.”

Writing A Holy Thing

I quit writing a few months back.

Just quit.

Cold turkey.

Because writing is hard and there were too many other hard things happening.  I wasn’t willing to share the process of becoming us with a world that I didn’t really trust.

Yes. I have trust issues.

See, friends, the things God is doing to us and in us and through us are Sacred. The transformations are Kadosh, holy, set apart.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to remember that the “be still” part comes before, “Know that I am God”.

Stillness is hard. Knowing is hard.

Honestly, my soul is five. Barely beyond toddlerhood and stretching toward Big Kid activities while lacking the wherewithal to make sense of the day to day awkwardness of submission and obedience to a Father I hardly comprehend.

So, in between crawling up on his lap, barely restraining the desire to suck my thumb, and throwing Epic Tantrums, I just haven’t had the strength put that all out here like some kind of Soul Buffet where readers pick and choose and throw away the things they despise.

Several years ago, I toyed with the idea of writing about parenting. But my heart knew I didn’t have anything to say that I believed would resonate beyond, “Try hard and pray hard.”  Much of what I thought was “good parenting” would be better defined as rigid control and fearful consent.

Today? Today I have the family God has made. It is not the one I deserve. These sons are not the children I discipled. They are the ones God has taken under His wing.

This family we have is hard work. Today it’s hard work. Today it’s humility and repentance and loud voices and resentments transformed into prayer and worship. We haven’t arrived at completeness.  We are deep in the trenches.

If we haven’t seen you in a while, we are not the Stones you knew. You wouldn’t recognize us.  You might think you do.  Pinky swear, you don’t.

That’s a pretty good thing. No, that’s a lie.

It’s an amazing gift.

It’s amazing because God did it and I want to tell you how. I want to unravel all the days, count the tears, re-live the echoing defiance that softened into resolute obedience.

I want to tell you that it’s possible for you to do this too. I want to hold your hands and sit awkwardly close to whisper through the fog of All The Things, that you too can live in complete and complicated honesty with your husband and your wife, your children, and your God.

I’m not sure you’ll believe me if I told you how many times a week we sit down to talk and end up spending an hour or more in worship and intercession. Because my teenaged sons are driving it. How many times my sons minister with love and compassion, brutal honesty, and lives of intentional praise, to the homeless guy, the girl at church, the kid at Walmart, their dad, to me.

I don’t know if you’d believe the music as it pours out of them, original, raw, focused on a God they know and adore.

Maybe you’ll think it’s a put-on, a show for your benefit.

It’s not. It’s the realest thing I know. I couldn’t have manufactured the world in which we live. In this world?  We are Weird.  Capital W.  But we don’t have to be.  I think we are living what God has intended for family from the beginning.

We have found mishpachah (family) that doesn’t settle for half-truths and getting along.  We are a unit, a platoon, that wrestles with pain and brokenness, bitterness and resentment from years of sin until it disappears in the light and glory of Grace extended, received, and compounded. Grace upon Grace.

For you there is a family of integrity hidden deep within the Father’s heart. He has His name written all over yours – You + Him = Love 4ever – until only His name remains.

I want to tell you this whole story.   One conversation at a time. One moment at a time. I want to bring you with me into the place where the hearts of the fathers long for their sons and the hearts of the sons yearn for their father. Earthly AND eternal.

How do I write such solemn things? Solemnity drenched in joy. The Divine wrapped in late night Taco Bell runs and long train rides.

There’s nothing special about us. About me. We haven’t Done Good Things to arrive at this point. We haven’t “earned” each other’s affections or run harder.

We simply said “Yes” when given the opportunity to follow the Master.

And this story of Yes has made a family where over-compensating strangers shrouded in shame and fear once lived.

So, if I tell you how God has worked in us, will you come along and be willing to say “yes” too?

This life thing. It’s not a spectator sport. It’s scary. It’s hard.

We all have trust issues.

This Year

This year. Of being broken and broken. Over and over.  Again and again until what remained, who remains, looks nothing like who began and I can’t find the shreds I was holding so tightly to only 365 days ago.  What were those things I couldn’t live without?

I don’t remember.

This year. Being remade and remade and remade until hand-me-down patches of identity have grown to encompass the whole, not quite covering, the rips and scars, and shredding of all I thought I had to have. The piles of Must Have whittled down to the brightest sharpest edges capable of piercing through stone and sculpting through the scrap-work me to find…

Who ever it is that remains.

This year. Wrestling and fighting and persevering when there were mountains to climb, oceans to cross, love to lose, love to gain. Giving up a thousand times, crying out that I could not bear it one moment longer. Yet, still moving forward. Keeping my feet, my eyes, my hands, moving and engaged while my heart thudded along, numbed and crushed. Dried to powder. Dirt devils whipping and twirling in a Spirit Wind that dances across the soul’s landscape.

This year.  When words failed and hands fell, quiet.  When prose and method trickled off into a vacant stare.  When the million things that bounced around in my head beat themselves silent on the closely guarded gates of my insufficiency. When the music couldn’t find rhythm and the lyrics didn’t rhyme.

This year. Friends found and friends left. Holding close and letting go. Finding a niche that fit and fitting into a niche that didn’t. Falling in love. Falling apart. Falling down.  Falling…

This year. Voices raised in song and whispers in the dark. Triumph and failure. Weakness and strength. Hope shining at the very bottom of the darkest pit.

This year I didn’t ask for. This year I thought I figured it out. This year I lost.

This year I won, but lost anyway.

This year of setting aside sparkles, waiting for the light pollution to fade. Find the gold that doesn’t glitter.  Setting aside things that softened the onward march of years while I search for who really lurks beneath.  Learning to really look at the crows feet and cellulite of my soul’s excesses bravely and not shrink away.  Seeking life’s reality without cosmetic enhancement to mask the fight or flight battle raging within.

This year I mistook the promise of transformation for the myth of being reborn into an image recognizable or to be coveted.

This year… 

When the Creator saw all that was and loved me anyway.

Dying to Live

The best part of the story is that moment when light and joy show up and questions find answers.  Even the ones you didn’t know you were asking can be unraveled as the story unfolded and they are woven into the fabric of completion.  This is truly the beginning of the best part.  The very best part.

Yet, just as the pushing produces a baby in body shredding pain, so too this being born into the kingdom of God was a period of intensity unrivaled in my life before or since.  All I had carefully crafted to be the Heidi I believed I should be was torn down… Shredded.

“Then the lion said — but I don’t know if it spoke — You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was jut the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.  You know — if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place.  It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”  Voyage of The Dawn Treader – C.S. Lewis
___________________________

Funnily enough, this is also the hardest part for me to write. I’ve spent so many years avoiding any discussion which might threaten to expose the jagged edges of where I had been.  To avoid that conversation, I often all too quickly gloss over the magnificence of God’s intervention and the sheer magnitude of His grace poured out into the empty shell of me.

Honestly, if it were not for the grace of God in a small second story office, I would have self-destructed long ago.

Yet, in the holy of holies where Grace dwells within me, it is often the memory of sanctuary on cheap multipurpose carpet surrounded by birkenstocks and a tenderness that reminds me of the importance of pressing in. The sanctity of allowing the tearing away of one identity to confirm the transformation God intended all along.

There is nothing I have ever experienced before or since those days that can compare in sheer intensity.

You have to start somewhere, I’ll start here.

_________________________________________

I was numb to life as I looked toward the end of life at home. The end of all the familiar.  The end of… the life I was choosing to despise.

So, how does a person get to the point of not caring about anything? When you aren’t interested in answering the questions of “Do I live or do I die?”  What if I didn’t care?  Somehow, I would wake up every day and still keep moving forward.  All faded and worn out out like some second hand paperback with crinkled pages and warped cover not from use and love but neglect and being thrown to the bottom of the stack, I merely existed.

I had found I could function as long as no one made it close enough for there to be any time to truly connect. I could neither exist with the presence of  love or when I would focus on the lack of it.  I could only continue by believe the lie that not caring was an adequate solution.

Dully, I  chose to refuse to care about the person next to me.  I refused to care about the person who taught me.  I defied the love of those who reached out to me.

Without the strength of desperation motivating me, the urges which would drive me to seek out an answer, to solve a problem, to wrestle, all of which had been beaten out of me, there only remained a ghost. Insubstantial.  Inconsequential.

I lived, barely.  Eat. Sleep. Homework, sometimes. Breathe. In and out.  Every day.

Sometimes, looking backward, I think maybe, somehow, someone could have helped me.  It was tempting to resent the successes of my fellow classmates as they geared up for college, for lives beyond the Huntley Project, our little corner of tiny-town Montana.  It was an ever-present temptation to believe that no one loved me enough to push through my thorny walls and find me.

I wasn’t worth the effort… I thought.

desperate words escaped me 

in a quiet night of soulish disgrace

tempting my shaking hand 

to slice away, slice away, slice away

god’s grace pursued me

though a solitude of grotesque self-pity

causing my battered spirit

to move again, move again, move again 

until the moment when 

disgrace and grace collided

and beyond temptation and causation

I was undone. 

___________________

The whole dang family showed up for my high school graduation.  Mom ordered a cake that looked like a book and had a verse or something on it. Blue and white. We rearranged furniture in the living room and opened all the doors for a long, long stream of well-wishers.

I wore the teal blue polka dot skirt and it showed through the silver graduation gown. My panty hose were twisted the entire day. I cried and cried through the ceremony and beyond knowing, somehow, I’d never see many of these people again. I didn’t know how right I was.

But then, it was over.  Just like that. The people left, the party ended, the excitement dissipated.

At the foot of my bed sat shiny, slate-grey, soft-sided luggage. My gift for graduation.  Recognition that I survived. That life goes on.  That it was time to embark. Head toward a future I wasn’t sure I knew even existed.

Three days later, having packed all my important things into two suitcases and an overnight bag, we piled into my brother’s car and drove from Eastern Montana toward the rich green of the Willamette Valley.

In a last ditch effort, I was to spend the summer working and volunteering at the missions base where my brother was on staff.  A Mexico missions trip was part of the schedule and, I’m pretty sure my parents were hoping I would get over this melodramatic depression and find some balance.

Get a grip, Heidi.

_____________________

The people who lived in little houses on the green lawns and under sprawling trees were kind and genuine, yet, I remained an outsider.  In the middle of a bustling international community I was fiercely lonely. Isolated.  Too young and awkward to fit in, not part of the inside jokes, not confident enough to blaze my own way, I bumbled along.

There were no snorting ponies, no endless sunsets, no quiet corners filled with books to hide behind and nowhere to lock myself away long enough to remain numb to the brokenness of myself.

In the middle of a “new beginning”, the only truth was this; I was on the outside, again.  I wasn’t this kind of people, and, to fit in, I needed to find a way to be a useful commodity.  Perhaps, if I entertained them, be the one who never complained.  A team player.

One problem.

I had no idea how to do that.  See, I only knew how to fake living for the time I had to be in public.

In a house full of women…There is no such thing as time that isn’t public and as the artificial construct of my world began to shrink, my façade began to unravel.

I was becoming undone, piece by patch by disappearing mask.

I had no idea what or who would remain as my defenses crumbled.  If anything.

—————————–

That was the summer where Mom & my little brother were in a horrible car accident.  She almost died, he was horribly injured, and flying home, the last few weeks of the summer were spent caring for them before returning to Oregon to start my own training school at the missions base.

Emotionally drained, mentally and physically exhausted, the opening days of the school found me in a dorm with 30-something other young women all eager to Do Something for Jesus.  And, by golly, they were gonna do it.  Beautiful, confident, athletic, sent and supported, loved and lavishly, extravagantly bold in their faith, the culture shock was tangible.

I wasn’t eager to Do Anything.  This was just the place I’d been sent.  There weren’t any other choices. There was no way for me to determine my own path. I didn’t think anyone wanted me around and had sent me away. Shuffled off.

So, I lived between the lines, in the emptiness where feeling anything was too much and feeling nothing was too little but the bridges between them were too great to cross.

I don’t have any great stories for that period of time, because, frankly?

I don’t remember living it.

The dark spaces consumed me and ate the days and weeks.  Being consciously aware of what I was doing, what I was saying, and how I was living a rare episode.

I couldn’t make sense of the way these people lived.  Early morning “quiet times”, spontaneous worship nights, long conversations about the Bible, all the hugging, all the camaraderie… For each other.  Not for me. I watched from the sidelines.  It was weird.  They had such zeal.

I couldn’t understand them and I didn’t fit into this worldview.

Honestly, it wasn’t anything I had experienced before and I sure as hell couldn’t fake it.  There were no clearly defined rules to follow.  No easy answers.  No external constructs that could make me blend in.

I wasn’t part of them and the truth began to dawn on me that, maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t part of this Christian thing at all.

But if I wasn’t a Christian?

What was I?

________________________

All the outreaches had been chosen. Ukraine. Africa.  Inner City America.  Everyone was scrambling for space on the teams they had chosen.  To spend 2 months abroad with their friends serving Jesus.  Doing Amazing Things.

For Jesus.

Intimidated by all their zeal, I was again the fly on the wall.

My parents had been paying for everything so I didn’t have the worries that most folks did, raising money and sending support letters.   Yet, oddly enough, in the middle of all that apathy and isolation, I realized I wanted to go to Ukraine.  I really did.

My brother was on that team.  But, he didn’t want me to go. My parents weren’t excited about it, they didn’t want me to go. The people I did connect with in the school weren’t excited about me going with them to Ukraine.

But I wanted to go. I wanted something.

That alone was worth noticing.

I didn’t know what else to do and was constantly being told to “follow your heart”. “Trust Jesus, He’ll tell you what to do”.

Cautiously, I attended some of the team meetings and hoped maybe, just maybe, I could finally get something I wanted for a change.  Maybe someone would decide to make me part of this…thing.  Missions. Thing.

But three days of agony, being born into life changed everything. Yes, I was made new.  But those days obliterated any chances I might have had to go to Ukraine.  They almost destroyed any future I could possibly have had and were thistles to driving me straight back to the hills of South Eastern Montana.

____________________

What was different? What prompted this change?

I finally tried to call out.  To look up.

In a moment of clarity, I reached up toward Heaven. I didn’t have to stretch far as I’ve since realized He has always been close by.

Brilliantly, in that desperate moment, Jesus intervened with a vengeance.

Before I could be transformed, I had to be set free.

My freedom was a problem for the passengers who lived in my soul.  The tormentors who were accustomed to having free reign with me found this unacceptable and they were ready to riot.

And they did.

__________________________

The lecture started like every other one.  A bit of worship.  A bit of chat. Introducing the new speaker.

“Spiritual Warfare – our topic this week.”

I sighed, putting my head down into my hands in a familiar posture.  This is the one that looked like introspective worship or prayer but was really just a non-questionable way to sleep off the effects of the breakfast work duty.  Getting up at 5am was hard.  Staying awake every day during the lectures was even harder.  Interacting was the hardest.  Thankfully, napping prevented all three from being overwhelming.

I’d been at this for 10 weeks.  Enduring. One long, painful day at a time.
 
But there was, something… There was something about this guy.  There was something different about his message and, instead of sleeping, I listened that day.  And the next.

So, when he invited us to come forward on the third day, on Wednesday, I walked up to the front.

Somehow, at just that moment, I found a glimmer of hope.

Maybe…  Just maybe…  I mean, I’d asked Jesus to help me.

_____________________________

Jesus Freaks lined up in a neat row only to fall as he passed by laying hands on each of their heads.   The girl to my left burst into riotous laughter. Uncontrollable.  Then she collapsed to the floor in hilarity next to two other girls.  The tall boy with dark hair stood in silent euphoria with his arms raised, swaying gently to what could only be soft worship music he alone could hear.

Raising my eyebrows, I thought, “Well, that’s different?”

Then it was my turn and I closed my eyes, expectantly. However, instead of the laughter or the tears or the silent collapsing to the floor with an expression of ecstasy and upstretched hands, I began to do things that I had never even imagined before.

On industrial brown carpet I fell like a rock and began writhing like a snake, completely out of control, as I felt as though I was being turned inside out.

I kept trying to be silent but guttural, harsh voices speaking through my lips were spewing obscenities, vile things, shrieking… My hands scratched at the floor and, as though propelled by someone else, my body twisted and turned until exposed skin burned.

Extremely body conscious and ashamed of my physical appearance, it would have been contrary to all I am to have torn at my clothes the way I did and the staff and students immediately rushed to me and pinned me to the floor before I could hurt myself.

Or anyone else.

In the chaos that followed, while the inward turmoil manifested as rage and hate and violence the exposure of every shameful thing within me was thrown onto these beautiful passionate strangers who loved Jesus while my own consciousness remained locked inside.

I could only witness my own destruction.

Powerless.
Voiceless.
Hopeless.
Humiliated.

For two days the young warriors fought and prayed for me. As they interceded, holding me pinned to the floor, I strayed perilously close to giving up completely. The ugliness that was endlessly being vomited out in a putrid stream continued as long as the prayers remained.  Sincere, overwhelmed, afraid, they cried out to God and challenged a legion.  Wildly binding, loosing, casting, weeping… But these long held footholds in my soul had the right to be there and the war waged on untempered by their efforts.

Mocking.
Taunting.
Obscene things.
Secrets shared.
Exposed.

The young people were afraid of me. Which, honestly, they didn’t need to be.  As long as you weren’t praying for me, I was a broken shell of a human. I couldn’t have hurt you if I fell on you.

Bruised and battered, barely able to walk, with two brave volunteers holding my arms, we would walk slowly up to the dorm. I would drag myself to my bunk and collapse under cover of blankets before falling mercifully asleep.

I was terrified and caught in a cycle I couldn’t break out of, it felt like hell.

Wednesday bled into and beyond Thursday afternoon but there were no changes so, on Thursday night, a group of people I didn’t even know had the faintest care for me chose to fast and pray, all night long.

They cried out to God.  They wept.  They sacrificed their time and themselves.

It shocked and rattled me.

I believed I didn’t matter, but people don’t do things like that for people who don’t matter.  They do that because they love.  Because they identify with a goodness I had no idea could exist.

For the first time in my entire life, the very first time, I dared to hang my life on an impossible hope.

I was worth fighting for.

It seemed sound reason that if they could fight, I could too.

What if I died in that fight?  That was ok.  I was going to find a way through this or die trying.  Either option worked.

I needed what they had.  I needed Who they had.

If He would take me.

_______

The stories began to circle through the community.

Should I be sent home?  There was no way I was going to Ukraine.  There was a slight hope, with the right support, I could possibly go to the USA outreach.  But, really, who wanted me?

No one save the Great Deliverer.

Every dream I had.  Every hope I had clung to.  Every attempt at making something of myself by myself was rubble.

But, maybe, perhaps, God would listen to these good people, if He couldn’t listen to me.

________________________

It does make me laugh a little that I began writing this from a coffee shop in Lviv.  Lviv, Ukraine. I made it here.  On God’s terms.

The irony is not lost on me.

I like to think He’s smiling and reminding me that His timing is better than my own.

Every time.
 _______________

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