This is the second post from Wendy and Anna’s joint blog series Breaking Light. Today’s post is a conversation between Wendy and Anna about their experiences of God’s breaking light through the darkness of cancer, fear and great loss.
Psalm 91: 1 – 4 (NIV)
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
Wendy: “Anna, of all the characters in the Bible, who do you most relate to and why?”
Anna: “Peter. He so wants to serve the LORD and do the right thing, but fear and pride cripple him at different points in time. I so love Jesus’ response to Peter. He tells him in advance that he will deny Him three times before the cock crows, but also that He is already praying for him. And then Jesus purposely seeks out Peter after His own resurrection to free Peter from the guilt and shame of his past. In asking him three times if Peter loves Him, until it hurts Peter, we see Jesus forcing Peter to voice and release the hurt, but also his acceptance of grace. It’s Jesus helping Peter to both confess his sins and receive forgiveness. It’s almost like Jesus knew it was too painful and shameful for Peter to seek Jesus out to do this himself. And then, Jesus also restores and calls Peter, asking Him to “feed my sheep”
There’s been so many times Peter’s story has brought me to tears because I see Jesus’ love and acceptance of me. I carried fear and shame for more than twenty years, until God pursued me in gentle, loving kindness, pressing into me until it hurt, and guiding me through confession, forgiveness of myself and others, acceptance of His grace and a newfound identity and calling in Christ.”
Wendy: “Anna, this is beautiful, I have tears as my heart absorbs this beautiful and agonizing truth. I relate to many of your personal struggles… the fear, shame and that being pursued by a loving, not angry God.”
Anna: “And what about you, Wendy? What Bible character do you most relate to? And you mentioned fear, shame and the angry God…do they have a connection with your chosen character?”
Wendy: “Ruth, has always captivated a special place in the depth of my heart. Her desire to know and serve God, whose love she couldn’t understand, as well as, initially may have feared, and to leave the family life she knew for one foreign to her… made her a kindred heart. (Isaiah 54:4-5) “Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. For your maker is your husband- the Lord almighty is His name- the Holy one of Israel is your Redeemer; He is called the God of all the earth.” There are two significant reasons why I relate to Ruth. The first being, her story introduced me to my great Kinsman Redeemer, He saved me from the shame of my youth and what could have ruined my future. In all Ruth’s hurt and all the fear of the unknown, He brought blessing and cared for her, He became Father in the fatherlessness of the foreign places in her life and husband to her in her widowhood and loneliness.
Second, her story taught me the blessings of being in fellowship with other widows. A widow who can support and encourage others who are hurting in their losses, like Ruth’s dear mother in law, Naomi. (I plan to elaborate more on this story later, in an interview with two dear widows, who have become my very own “Ruth” and “Naomi.” A precious mother and daughter, who are well acquainted with loss and heartache.)
As a young girl, I struggled to believe God was loving. My childhood had its fair share of disappointments, crippling fear, guilt, betrayal and very little trust. I never felt worthy of anything, let alone the love of a father, Heavenly or earthly, though I longed for love from both. Tender, protective fatherly love was not demonstrated well in my home. As a child, I longed for it, but never knew the security of it. This led me to become tough-hearted, to protect myself at all cost and never admit I felt pain. The oldest child and a fixer by nature, I often thought I needed to be strong for everyone. At 15, I experienced a loss that would forever change my journey. My father was involved in a car accident that took his life and the hopes I had of ever restoring and having a loving relationship with him. My view of fathers, at that time, was tainted by sin in his life and the choices he made because of it. Choices that deeply hurt myself and my family. There were moments, I glimpsed the good that could have been in him. This caused me to build my whole image of him on those hopeful thoughts and scattered bits of normal.
Just after my 16th birthday, I went to a retreat for teens and was introduced to a woman named Ruth. It would be through this beautiful woman, that I’d meet Jesus. In Ruth’s story, I was introduced to the concept of a kinsman redeemer. One who spoke up for her, a foreigner in unfamiliar territory. He saved her from being a forever outcast, separated from being loved deeply again. He took her as his bride and loved her dearly. He gave her a life she could not have imagined and poured into her all of his abundance. I was enthralled, mesmerized and captivated. Then Jesus, was introduced to me as…. my Kinsman Redeemer. Jesus came along as a friend to the outcast and the lonely. He came with a message of hope and belonging. He came with a gift of eternal life, I couldn’t fathom this. I learned Jesus gave all His abundance to me, His own life, that I’d have life forever at His side. Ruth and I became sisters that week. Through this beautiful truth, I began to grasp that Jesus took me reverently as His bride. He dressed me in pure white. He healed me from my own sins and choices… and those sins inflicted by flawed, cruel and broken people.
After pondering Ruth’s story as it unfolded, I, this frightened girl, Ruth’s sister only separated by many years, took the hand of her Great Kinsman Redeemer. I walked the aisle to the steps of that altar and fell to my knees in surrender. My head in my hands, eyes hot with held back tears, and a heart pouring out of a gaping wound, the betrayal, pain, fear and mistakes, upon the steps of that altar. When tears were spent and the wound was bound, a bride in white, rose from the ashes of sin. Jesus, my Kinsman Redeemer used Ruth’s story. As a sister of Ruth, once in the sackcloth of my fear of the unknown and shame of youth, I was now and forever a daughter and child of the King. Three hard but healing years later, Jesus led me through the desert of my grief and heartache, and brought me to the feet of my very own Boaz. A Boaz of God’s own choosing, who joined me and poured out into my story. A Boaz who God used to draw me further into a place of unconditional love. And… my sister, Ruth and I, would someday relate once again. This time I’d meet her as a widow, at yet another retreat. But that is a story for another time. This… is where I leave off, there will be a completion of this circle later.”
Anna: “Oh Wendy, this is so very beautiful. The love of Jesus is SO powerful, isn’t it? All the shame, the fear, the feeling of not belonging…all washed away in His incredible Love. I love thinking of God planning this retreat to set you free, to pursue you in His loving kindness.”
Wendy: “He planned every step. ‘Jesus loving hand is irresistible,’ a dear sister just shared that with me. I am still being set free, still pursued and reminded that I am His beloved one.”
Anna: “Oh yes, I’ve seen Him doing so and it’s been so beautiful to watch.”
Wendy: “Anna, what is one of your favorite Scriptures and why does it mean so much to you?”
Anna: “I’ve had different Scriptures that have been my favorites at different times. Lately, one of my favorites is Psalm 62:8 “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”
When I first came back to the LORD two years ago, I was gifted with some beautiful godly wisdom from the website Hebrew4Christians.com, written by John J. Parsons. He explained that the word trust comes from the Hebrew word bittachon, stemming from a root word that means: “to lean on, feel safe or secure, to be confident in” (http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Meditations/Bittachon/bittachon1.html). So, now I understand that if I truly trust in my Savior, I am able to fully “lean on, feel safe or secure” in His arms and remain “confident in” Him, which in turn enables me to pour out my heart to Him, no matter how “desperately deceitful” (Jeremiah 17: 9, NIV) it is. But you can also see it the other way around. The more we dare to pour out our hearts to Him, the more our trust grows, just as it does in a marriage with our husband or wife, the more we dare to reveal our true selves to them no matter how ugly that true self is.
If we enjoy a relationship of love, our wife or husband are our safe place to go with everything that resides in our hearts. We dare to lean on them through the hard, we feel safe and secure in their arms, we are confident that they will keep their promises. I truly believe that God is calling us to an even deeper relationship. Because God knows us better than we even know ourselves, because He knit us in our mother’s womb, because His Love is perfect, He, unlike our spouse, is incapable of ever disappointing us, breaking any promises, guilt-tripping us for our very real failings, or becoming impatient and unkind toward us. His Love is truly overwhelming.
Psalm 62:8 has been incredibly precious to me in the last few months because God has been growing me to “pour out my heart” to Him and what has left me stunned is that no matter how ugly my heart is, He hasn’t turned His back on me. Precisely in those moments I’ve dared to get incredibly angry at Him, to tell Him (selfishly) that I’ve had enough of the heartache and the pain and suffering for myself and others, is when I’ve seen Him draw so incredibly close to me gifting me worship song after worship song of hope and coming restoration. When I’ve let out the waves of grief, telling Him that I feel like a failure for not being able to love as I should because I’m hurting so bad, He’s drawn near, turning my eyes to the sky, reminding me that His Love for me is so great He has painted a tapestry of skies for my delight and that His Love is made perfect in my weakness. And when I sit there crying tears for all the ways I’ve failed my children and others close to me, He’s taken me in His arms and spoken Scriptures of grace over me, reminding me that I am saved by His merciful grace and not by any good works. When I tell Him that I’m so embarrassed of my feelings of despair, of grief, of fear, of rejection, He pulls me up on His lap and sings love songs over me, reminding me that He can never disown Himself, Christ in me.
One time I was giving Him a piece of my mind, when for the umpteenth time I had to leave church early with my fussy kids. I was angrily telling Him that it was bad enough not being able to share my faith in my own home, He didn’t have to rob this special time at church from me too. And then, all of a sudden when I was walking through the church gates with my girls I saw a man, a stranger, I had prayed for a week earlier. I was perplexed to see him walking in an industrial area on a Sunday morning at 10:30am. Here he was, no longer limping, talking about having run 10km the day before…after I had prayed for healing a week earlier. He put it down to a cream he’d picked up at the chemist. But I knew better. To me there were far too many coincidences for this not to be a “God-incident”. I will always look back upon this moment as God proving His Love to me…showing me that He is my safe place, showing me that even in my anger at Him, He is working to bless and encourage me. That nothing I do or say can take away His intention of kindness, patience, compassion, reassurance, safety, forgiveness, His perfect LOVE toward me.
And again and again He’s been showing me that I have no need to fear His wrath, no matter how much I fail Him. He’s taking me back to the relationship I had with Him as a little girl, when I poured out everything within me before Him, when I wasn’t embarrassed of the way in which His Spirit led me. The days when He was my safe place and I dared to admit the good, the bad and the ugly that resides within me. The days I poured over His Word seeking Him above all else. The days before I let the fear of men and my pride, rob me of His safe embrace. The days before I listened to those who placed me on a pedestal of faith for my heart for God, before I came to believe that God was out for perfection. The day before I turned God into an idol of human shaping, an idol of an angry, slave-driving, unforgiving god.
Now I can POUR out my heart to my LORD and Savior because He is my living, breathing Heavenly Father, a GOOD GOOD Father. “Because of [His] great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is [His] faithfulness. I say to myself “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.” (Lamentations 3: 22 – 24, NIV). I have nothing to fear. I can turn to my God “with my knees shaking, my heart hurting, my anger boiling, the tears streaming and expectantly waiting upon [Him] to pour out [His] Love upon me as [His] Daughter, a Daughter of the King.” (Love Embraced, Chapter 30 – Acknowledgement).
This pouring out only became possible through God unearthing the pain and hurt I’d kept hidden for twenty years so that He could start pouring His Truth into it. It came in a period I was caring for my sick husband and children, when I had to cancel the Bible study at my home and found my closest friends busy with other things. But with my community having retreated, I finally pressed fully into God. PTSD-induced flashbacks of my mother’s last days hit a few days after I’d written my own Biblical Lament, http://margaretfeinberg.com/broken-heart-god/ pouring out my feelings uncensored before God. Ten months after my Mum died, in the middle of the night, I finally dared to pit the deep anger I had hidden inside all this time, against Him, daring Him to show me life was worth living.
It is then, He had me open my Bible to Luke 6: 35 – 40 (MSG) and I sat there with goosebumps at how amazingly His response touched each and every fear, hurt and deep need of mine. He showed me that my mother was no longer broken apart and ravaged by cancer’s hold, that she was “whole and complete before the Father” and that every one of us who the Father entrusts to Jesus here on earth is held in His arms and He will never ever let us go until that completeness and wholeness He has promised us is ushered in in its entirety.” (I share more about this experience here: Caregiver PTSD).
Wendy: “Anna, thank you for allowing God to work in you to share this deeply vulnerable place in your life. He is going to bless and bring good from this place of great loss and unfathomable pain. The need to know we are held together is such a comfort, as well as knowing our dear ones, that have gone before us, are whole again… I loved this part in verse 39… “at the wrap up of time I have everything and everyone put back together and whole.” This is so beautiful and correlates to a couple of favorite verses, that have reminded me to hold on and lean into God’s great love.
Colossians 1:17 “And He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.
Psalm 27:13 “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”
I, too, needed to know comfort in my beloved husband’s battle with cancer. I needed God to help me see that there was going to be healing and goodness from this chaos of my soul. When Chris was first diagnosed I was so incredibly upset. My prayers were silent moans and crying out. I asked God for comfort and promises to lean on. The verse in Colossians was His promised answer, I even wrote the date in my Bible with the word Cancer next to it. I fell back on it time after time. He went before us, knew each step and each hard decision. He held both Chris and I together, God drew us close to His side and poured out the balm of His deep love over us. We held on to him and each other for dear life. I prayed for healing, knowing it would come, here or in heaven. I was held together by a body of believers who met our needs, prayed over us daily and shared their gifts with us. Yes, in Him all things held together.
The verse in the Psalms, I discovered after Chris went to heaven. I was so comforted by that beauty of this promise. In the beginning of this battle our pastor came to visit. He shared the true meaning of God’s fruit of the spirit, goodness. He spoke of it as, Christ in us, the hope of glory. I will never forget how comforting it was to know there was goodness in this hard place called cancer. I was reminded of goodness often through the months of Chris’s illness. God was pressing Christ into every corner of our hearts until all we could do was hope for glory, and all that could come from the broken places was Christ’s light. After Chris had passed away and I knew he was healed and whole. I was alone and afraid in foreign territory. Nothing was filled with hope and my dreams of a long marriage were crushed. God whispered, “but it is well.” And showed me this verse. Reminding me of the goodness and what that truly meant. The part that struck me between the eyes was, “in the land of the living.” I realized I could still see goodness here on earth, as fragile and broken and hurting as it was, there was goodness.
I look for the sanctuary of being held and knowing goodness. God promises to be my husband. He has provided for and loved me. I am held. He promised goodness here where I am living. I carry goodness around in my heart everyday. Christ in me, hoping for glory.”
Anna: “Oh Wendy, I love what you share here. When you wrote about this goodness on your blog (Goodness Defines) it really encouraged me. I remember you sharing how no matter how horrendous we may feel, that this goodness still remains, holding us through whatever crashing waves we may feel. Although we may at times feel overcome, we are not: His goodness remains. It reminds me of what I just read in Jeremiah 31:33 (NIV) again: “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Because He’s written His goodness upon our hearts, our feelings of despair, depression, utter darkness can never separate us from Him.
Wendy, can you share some more about the events, circumstances and struggles in your life that have been and continue to be your deepest valleys?”
Wendy: “I would have to say that the loss of my husband is my deepest valley just now. The events leading up to His passing, the care giving and the process of walking through cancer are places I am just now dealing with the effects of, and it is a valley still in shadow. The side effects of his passing, the challenges in parenting 4 children without their dad, the pain and the many responsibilities I must take care of alone. And the losing of my identity, wondering who I am now. These are the hardest circumstances I have just now.”
Anna: “I can’t even begin to imagine this hard you face each day you wake and yet I know from walking beside you that God has been powerfully present. In what ways have you experienced His nearness in these valleys?”
Wendy: “I lost my dad in a car accident, as a teen, and having teen daughters without a dad is a hard place to process, a challenge for sure. I have begun to recognize I am not a single parent though, God is both husband and Father. And He used this experience of loss, in my past, to help me understand my girls needs and hurts better in their loss and to help me know God is Father to the fatherless, even me. He does work all things, even the hard things, out to His good. Even in this valley place of raising of my children without a dad, not having my beloved husband at my side and the waves of grief that crash upon me unannounced, I have known God as my Father, holding me close. I have known the shadow of His wings spread over me, protecting me while I rest. God has been so good to me. I often do not understand these painful circumstances, but I have learned feelings are not always reliable. His truth always is. His truth is that I will never be alone, He provides for the widow and is a father to the fatherless. He has written my name on his hand and I am the apple of His eye. No weapon formed against me will prosper. And darkness will never hide the light of His grace and goodness inside me.”
Anna: “This is such a deep loss for all of you. You and your girls. And I know as a Mom that you carry your girls’ grief as well as your own. So thankful God’s truth is such a powerful anchor. I’ve seen Him hold you tight with it these past few months. As Psalm 139:12 promises us: ‘“At night I’m immersed in the light!” It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you; night and day, darkness and light. They’re all the same to you.”
Wendy: “Often, people apologize to us for these deep valleys: for the loss, the grief or the hard of our journey, wishing they could take it all away. Anna, what would you like to say to people whose hearts ache reading of your valley?”
Anna: “I’d like them to know that it is my deepest valley that has given me one of my greatest gifts in life: the knowledge that God will never ever leave me, that He is with me through whatever I face. If I had never experienced deep grief, the trauma of caring for my mother in her last days and the consequent PTSD, I would never have truly experienced the powerful pursuing Presence of a gentle, kind, shielding and healing God in the same way. Precisely because it has been a long hard journey, one with very deep valleys, I have been gifted with so many moments where all I could do was lean, lean into a Strength I so sorely needed and continue to need to walk through each and every day. And the more I lean into His arms, the more peace, comfort, hope, and even joy I am beginning to experience.
Although I no longer experience crippling flashbacks or extreme tension throughout my body, I still struggle with turning my grief to God, with feelings of shame and inadequacy. But each time I struggle, I witness God’s pursuit of my heart: He gently and persistently presses into me, through Scriptures, friends, sermons and worship songs, until I let Him in – into the heartache and deep gaping hole – and let the tears fall relentlessly, safe in His arms.
Wendy, I have seen God draw close to you in similar ways through even deeper valleys. What would you like to say to people whose hearts ache reading of your valleys?”
Wendy: “This is a hard question. My personality sponges everything in and I want to hold it all in instead of sharing. So, I do not hurt others with my valleys. God has placed me in a situation that was out there for all to see. Having a husband dying of cancer and going to heaven has taught me to lean on God, my Father and my husband. In the leaning I have learned what it is to have God step in as my husband.
I remember my pastor preparing me for the questions and the hurt in people’s eyes. He told me it was best to be honest, if my day was a bad one… it was ok to say it, and not be afraid of my tears or theirs. Aw… dear ones who have walked beside me and seen the pain on my heart, take heart, though this world is broken and fragile and the enemy is crushing our human side… the Prince of peace has overcome the world. Our spiritual side is powerful in His love, grace and goodness. I want others to know, they do not have to fix, or have the perfect words or do anything out of the ordinary. It means a lot to me to have people just listen and treat me like a regular person. The biggest thing, please do not be afraid to talk of my beloved Chris, that is such a wonderful way to heal. Please do not be afraid of my tears when you share his memories. Tears are becoming as natural as breathing these days. I want others whose hearts are watching my journey to know I am in complete dependence on my Father. He has me in His hands… and if I come to you with the pieces of my heartache, I only need your embrace and your listening heart. I want these dear ones to know they do not need to apologize for my valley, that God is using it for good. I have become more assertive and more openly vulnerable about my journey. God is growing me and shaping me into Christ likeness. Goodness, Christ in me the hope of glory. (Romans 8:28-29.)”
Anna: “Oh Wendy, thank you so much for sharing this. It’s so useful to know how we can come alongside those who are grieving. It’s hard because I know we can often yearn to “fix”, to take away the tears and the ache. I have been on both sides of the equation and sadly have also leant to “fixing”. I remember though that it cut deep when I was on the receiving end, when someone who yearned to take the pain from me told me I needed to speak God’s Truth more firmly into my soul and that then the tears would recede. I think what you share here is so valuable: that tears and deep grief do not null-invoid God’s Presence and that the biggest gift is for people to sit with us, listen and not treat us as a different person or try to speak strength into us, when God is teaching us to keep releasing the grief that resides in us in tears, so that His strength may uphold and comfort us.
Just recently I had someone ask me if I was “okay” now and it made me realize that we can often see valleys as things to be gotten over, as bad things to help us “remove”, rather than as opportunities to know and experience God’s nearness. Really, none of us are completely “okay”, as we live in a broken, sinful world, and life does hurt. Rather than yearning to make things “okay”, I know I, for one, need to start accepting that it isn’t and letting God guide me into drawing near to others in their heartache, letting His Love speak and embrace, rather than me stepping in to “fix” the heartache away. Only God is truly one hundred percent okay, so it is only God who can bring us into greater and greater healing and wholeness, something that won’t be completed until He comes to take us home.”
Wendy: Oh Anna, how precious is the body of Christ… to know that we are surrounded by such love. Thank you for sharing your heart. How have you seen God minister to others through your deep valleys?”
Anna: “When I was struggling through PTSD, God placed several beautiful women of God around me. One woman, now a dear friend, chose to visit me every two weeks with her three children. While our kids played, we chatted, cried and prayed together. When I moved churches, I didn’t want to burden her anymore, thinking that because she was no longer my pastor’s wife, she would want to stop visiting me so regularly…so for a while we both drew back, both not wanting to expect too much from each other. But when we finally sat to chat things through she told me that the time she sat with me was such a wonderful encouragement to her in her own faith and she was sad we didn’t see each other as much anymore. Here I had been seeing myself as this struggling, depressed and annoying burden, when what she saw was a woman through whom she could see God working powerfully, an encouragement to her in her faith and of God’s love for her.
In the same way, other friends have shared of how my vulnerable openness with them has been a blessing to them too. They could relate to so much I shared and were encouraged to draw closer to God in their own struggles and heartache through the words He gifted me. It is these friends who also first encouraged me to start sharing my writing publically.”
Wendy: “How beautiful that you have had such amazing support, that God is steadfast in teaching you to be open and… yes… even vulnerable. I have seen this unfolding like a flower about to bloom in just the time I have known you.”
Anna: “Oh Wendy, you too have ministered to me deeply through your choice to be vulnerable and share of both the struggles and God’s goodness. How have you seen God take your deepest valleys and turn them into a blessing for others outside your home? How has God been unfolding opportunities for ministering to others through you and your girls’ deep loss?”
Wendy: “Anna, God has taken a broken person, who thought life ended with her husband’s death, and has begun to open the doors of things I’d stuffed away. God revealed that my first love, will always be at my side. I’ve discovered that even though I am an introvert, I have a deeper need for community than ever, I need to have trusted sisters I can confide in. My cheerleader, confidant, supporter and best friend is waiting for me in heaven. But that leaves me missing those things and I am learning I need to ask God to help me advocate for myself and seek of support.
My deepest valley being my loss of my best friend, has led me to seek out the friendship of other widows and in doing that I have discovered God’s gifts, bestowed to me to share with others.
The encouragement I found in standing shoulder to shoulder with other widow sisters is so hard to explain. I learned that I was not the only one who did and said and thought the way I now do; that I was not crazy and that like Ruth had Naomi, I needed sisters too.
As for the gifts God bestowed, I realized that God had given me the passion and love to create art and write. I had up to very recently felt those were not useful and a waste of time. So, what God had given me to make a difference and share and encourage me, I had stuffed away. It was like I had spent a lifetime holding my breath and I was dying for lack of oxygen. I needed to use those gifts like I needed to breathe. When God showed me, through a widow sister, that art and writing were gifts and God wanted to use them in me, I began to want to find a way to do just that. I was introduced to a ministry, teaching art to homeless youth in my city. My heart has taken wing. God has blessed me so much through these talented kids. Through this ministry I am able to see my girls in a different light, to parent them but to allow God to take a bigger parenting role then I was letting him take. My parenting is a ministry of sorts, to be a listener, aware that I am not here to change them but to teach by example and to guide them. These homeless youth in various states of life, taught me to love someone where they are at, not to fix. And I have been able to carry this vital tool into my home many times. Allowing my children’s decisions to be their decisions, and not take the weight of their poor choices on myself as a burden or as my fault and my responsibility to fix. God is opening doors and I have become passionate to write and draw and meet new people and have hope again. I have begun to reach outside my comfort zone and to truly enjoy sharing my story with others, would that God use it to His glory, as he promised me so long ago. My life took a turn, and this beauty of passion for living for Jesus with my gifts, is growing… but it is daily threatened by the enemy. He is daily after my joy, he is daily striking me with blows, deeply painful ones. But God has poured into me, all I need do is run to him for cover and for strength.
Anna: “Oh Wendy, I am so thankful that you are held under the shadow of His mighty wings, that you can rest assured in His deep abiding Presence through these attacks.
I love how God is opening you up through the special gift He has given you and how He is using what was meant to harm you to bring beauty from such brokenness. I have been so touched by your art work: God has given you an incredible gift to open, comfort and give such hope to hurting souls. And it’s beautiful that your service to others is allowing you to “breathe” again.
Just like you, I’ve seen God use ministry to grow me. In addition to the women of God He placed around me through my deepest valleys, God has also softened my heart to see, pursue, sit with and listen to the stories of others who are walking through dark times both locally and globally through the blessing of electronic communication. This has been so beautiful, so encouraging and so uplifting.
Locally, I visit refugees who have known deep suffering and are facing such hard in a foreign country, having to learn a new language, customs and starting all over again in building up their lives. It brings back many memories of what it was like for my own Mum and Dad, who moved to Germany with their then four young children as missionaries, with barely enough money to afford to pay for a campervan for us to live in in the first six months.
The stories of these refugees and those of my new blogging friends have also helped me appreciate just how powerful stories of deep valleys can be for outsiders looking in…as those who I have pursued have given me a glimpse into the relentless pursuit of God’s Love through the most horrendous of circumstances. It has helped me appreciate why my dear friend was encouraged by what I shared with her…she didn’t just see my tears, my fears, my deep grief and despair, she also saw the power of God, how He tethered me to Himself through the deepest of valleys. And it is this that has us pressing into each other. We see Jesus shining in and through each other and so badly want to draw closer and closer to this Hope, this Peace, this Comfort, this beautiful Joy that pours out of the depths of our aching, weary hearts.”
Wendy: “Anna, what obstacles have stood in the way of this ministry God has called you to through the hard? And how have you responded to these obstacles?
Anna: “I have to say that my absolute biggest obstacle has been my pride. I want to be liked by others, I want them to accept me and approve of me and when they don’t, I struggle. My first response is to hide. Criticism, and silence perhaps even more than criticism, hits me hard. My pride tells me that if people don’t like me, or if I even just sense that they don’t like me, I have to hide who I am, so they will like me…because otherwise I will be clothed in shame. In telling such a vulnerable story in such a public arena (via my blog and published book) I have faced a lot of this criticism, silence and even mockery. There have been several occasions where this has caused me to become tight-fisted with the gifts God has given me, where I’ve chosen to retreat, rather than pour out the love He calls me to.
But God has been teaching me that if people don’t like me or don’t accept me for who I am, then I can stand in the full confidence of the identity (daughter of the Most High King) and calling He has gifted me. And He has been encouraging me with powerful stories of His prophets who faced almost nothing but criticism and even terrible persecution in choosing to speak the truth of God in public arenas. These prophets show me that God’s purpose is to keep pursuing His people in loving kindness, to keep trying to pierce their numbed hearts with His Love, even when they continue to turn their backs on Him, so that they may finally begin to enter the freedom He holds out to them.
The truth does often hurt, I know it does me, and especially did when I first turned my heart back to God. It was from then I had to start facing all that I had pressed down deep, it means choosing to be the vulnerable, hurting and needy person that I am before God. As humans, who so easily fall prey to pride this is hard, so hard. But it is by stepping into this hard, letting the mask drop, that God can enter our hearts in power.
And so I know that there is purpose in the vulnerable calling God has gifted me. I write of the hard, of the awful, of my struggles so openly because I want others to know what I have come to know: that it is in the opening of our hearts, in the pouring out of them before God that we make room for His Spirit to move in power, to release us from all that presses us under and to transform a numbed, aching but hardened heart, into a heart leaning into the beautiful embrace of a Heavenly Father who holds out hope, comfort, peace, safety and deep joy.
Wendy, what about you? I know that you too have been doing a lot of leaning. What have your obstacles been?”
Wendy: “Anna this leaning is a lesson that has taken me so long to even entertain, let alone do. I believe God has an irresistible hand and eventually we run and fall at His feet. Oh the comfort and love that is there and has been there all the time.
I would agree that my greatest obstacle is also pride. I think I can do things on my own, that I must be strong and never have needs. And I fall on my face every time. I struggle to ask for help and find myself in a bad way. I find fear is an obstacle. There is so much unfamiliar ground and so many things I have not done before in front of me. Fear of this grips me and I am overwhelmed by it.
This is an area I am learning to surrender. I have been learning to ask for prayer when things get hard. I have been seeking God’s face before things get out of control. God has pushed me into several situations where I have had no choice but to ask for help. To have leaders of my church home pray with me over the painful places. God has been teaching me to be open and honest.
Anna: “Oh Wendy, you face such adversity and heartache each and every day. I am so very thankful that God is teaching you to ask for help and that His Body is responding by lifting you up and blessing you with their ministry of prayer.
I love how God pursues us in our frailty and human weaknesses. I’ve seen this in the obstacles I’ve faced in growing into the community of faith around me.
I am starting to realize that I can be quite selfish, self-centred and defensive when I interact with others. When I don’t hear from others for a while, I often begin to assume the worst, to look at myself as the reason for their silence and to then harbor resentfulness in my heart. Rather than pursuing them in gentle, loving kindness as Jesus does me, I often pull back from them. And when they say something through which I sense a critical tone or when they choose to speak the truth in love, I respond in a defensive tone that is uncalled for. I have had to seek grace and forgiveness from friends for this on a number of occasions.
God has also been patiently teaching me to keep turning my heart to Him in these situations, to admit and pour out the feelings of rejection, fear and insecurity I feel, so that He can move into them to release me from them. On several occasions this has then led, through prayers of confession, to me recalling childhood memories of being rejected by others. He knows and has been reminding me that it was not easy for me growing up in a family that moved so many times. I lived in fourteen houses and seven towns and moved countries three times before my eighteenth birthday. I faced numerous situations where I had to learn to interact with people so very different from myself (in culture, customs, faith, personality, dress) and also situations in which I was teased and verbally bullied for being so different. God is helping me to remember these painful moments, so that I can receive His comfort and securing Presence in them. The more painful memories He retrieves and enters with His powerful Truths that I belong to Him, that He has chosen me from the womb as His beloved child, the less painful and overpowering my current feelings of rejection are becoming, when triggers (silence, perceived critical tones, hurtful words, closed body language) resurface them.
Another obstacle for me is my selfishness in communication. Sometimes I am too busy thinking through my own response or thinking of “solutions”, rather than stopping to listen or take in the response of others. But God has been convicting me of this repeatedly and helping me to turn from looking at myself and my insecurities, to looking to Him.
He is teaching me to slow, so that I might learn to love and appreciate the people He has created, people who are very different from myself, people who carry a unique piece of God’s heart that He wants me to learn and grow from and through. If I am too busy focusing on myself due to fears and insecurities built on idolization or from believing I need to take their pain away, I miss the gifts these men and women are holding out to me. It’s something I am still growing in, something I still sorely need God’s help with. I now go into my visits praying for God to keep my mouth shut, when it needs to be shut and when it opens for it to speak words given by Him.
What has also been particularly valuable to me, is friends who are honest with me. Who have helped me to see and appreciate who they are and let go of my own insecurities and fears. For example, I have a friend who told me that writing emails is not her strength. That when it comes to communication, she finds face-to-face communication easier and more conducive to real in-depth heart sharing. When I send her things I’ve written, to share my journey with her, writing being my strength in communication, I know not to expect to hear from her electronically, but to wait for the moment we can sit and chat to hear her response.
I also remember that when I first started visiting one of the refugee families that I began to doubt my ability to minister to a mother who has seen such incredibly deep valleys. But when I talked to you about it, Wendy, you were quick to point me to who I was sent and called by, and who would give me what I needed and guide me to minister in the way it is needed. This had such a profound impact on me because I started realizing how easily I turn to hide from God’s calling by looking to myself, rather than to God.
God is slowly and patiently teaching me to keep entering and pursuing situations in which I feel fearful and insecure. To keep pursuing community, even where I’d much rather go hide away and keep to myself, to keep beholding Him, rather than myself. And I am seeing the fruit of this. I am seeing Him bring beauty from brokenness. Building community takes work, it hurts as we come face-to-face with ourselves through the process, but it also helps us to grow and flourish into who God has created us to be.”
Wendy: “I was touched by your description of beautiful community in these friends of yours. How wonderful to understand each other’s weaknesses and encourage one another with our gifts. I’d like to let you know, Anna, how blessed I am by you and your gifts. You are an encourager and a powerful prayer warrior. Time after time I have been blessed by the Scriptures, God’s own words, that you have sent me. Always on God’s perfect timing. Thank you.”
Anna: “Oh Wendy, it has been an encouragement to me to see God move. You have encouraged me by giving me the privilege of coming alongside of you, which has given me the opportunity of seeing what God brings us when we pour out our hearts on our friends’ behalf.
Wendy, God has poured in so much of His wisdom into you through the hard. What advice or kernels of wisdom would you like to leave with our readers from your journey through your hard to encourage them in their own dark valleys?”
Wendy: “Recognize the enemy’s attacks. The situation and/or people involved are not the problem, ask and plead for the power of the blood of Jesus to cover all of it. Do not see the hard as a curse from God. He has overcome the creator of evil, and stands beside you. He collects every tear and holds you close. Your name is on his heart. Ask for help, we were created for community and for fellowship as a body, not to be a one man army. Pray with your brothers and sisters, together. In this God creates, strength and deep compassion for others’ needs. And last, believe that God is working all things out for good… beauty will come from the ash heap of your pain.”
Dear Reader, would you like to share your own story of God drawing near to you through the hard, through your physical, emotional or psychological suffering? We’d love to help you and encourage you in doing so to the Glory of God. Let us know in a comment and we’ll be in touch.
Isaiah 55: 10 – 12 (The Message)
Just as rain and snow descend from the skies and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth, Doing their work of making things grow and blossom, producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry, So will the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed. They’ll do the work I sent them to do, they’ll complete the assignment I gave them. “So you’ll go out in joy, you’ll be led into a whole and complete life. The mountains and hills will lead the parade, bursting with song. All the trees of the forest will join the procession, exuberant with applause.
Go into the draw to win Anna’s book Love Embraced: A Journey in and through Suffering. Just comment on today’s or last Tuesday’s Breaking Light post and your name will be placed in the draw. If you comment on both posts, your name will be entered twice. The winner will be announced on Tuesday. If you continue reading through June and July, you’ll be able to go into the draw for other beautiful and inspiring books and artwork from our interviewees.