Armoured Up

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God…Where Were You?

christian-in-Gods-handI, like countless people spent a pretty blue weekend.  Yet I, like the majority of those  who watched the horrific events as they unfolded was able to turn off the television set and for a few hours busy myself with errands and family matters.  Not so for those not only affected by the recent tragedy in Connecticut, but those who have been impacted by past tragedies (memories once again stirred, pain revisited)…Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora and many other senseless shootings that pepper our newscasts causing us to catch our breaths once again, hug our babies once again and sadly call out to God, in some cases, only once….again.

It really angers me to hear the same people who only call out to God in order to “damn” Him now blame Him, question Him, ridicule those who still believe in Him.  The same ones who disallow Him, exclude Him, want Him out of our schools, off of our money, separated from our governmental affairs are now wondering where He was.

I have a very good idea of His whereabouts…as seen in the actions of those in and near that school.  He was in the courage displayed by the principal to stare down the shooter and shout a warning to her teachers both verbally and in her wisdom to keep the intercom open giving her teachers time to protect their children; He was in  the courage displayed by those teachers who gave their lives to protect their children; who did not allow fear to paralyze them into nonaction, but were able to protect and distract their children; who were able to usher their children to safety; He was in the school secretary who set aside her fear in order to make the 911 call (that act alone saved hundreds of lives); He was in the first responders who like the heroes they are, ran into the building while others ran out; and He remains to comfort and console those whose lives are left shattered by this evil.

No one will ever be able to offer a satisfactory response as to why God would allow such an act .  I certainly could provide a scriptural response, but would it bring peace to those whose peace has been fractured?  Maybe in time…but the question would remain….why their baby?  Would it bring understanding to those who don’t believe?  How can you explain the unexplainable, make sense of the senseless, conceive of the inconceivable?  How can you console the inconsolable?  There are no words…not mine anyway!

I do know this….the enemy aimed straight at our hearts with this one.  It was only 13 years ago that Columbine was in the news…when the unimaginable stopped the nation in its tracks as we became voyeurs to that tragedy and it seems that the enemy took his “game” up a notch when evil struck at Virginia Tech and if that wasn’t horrific enough (that event garnering the title of the deadliest school shooting in our nation’s history), the enemy, lest we think it can’t get any worse, pays a visit to the most innocent of them all.

I hate that this past weekend I had to have a conversation with my kids about steps to take in the event of a public emergency; I hate that this world has become so dark; I hate that for months we will be discussing gun control and mental illness as if any human will be able to put a plug in the many holes that have been drilled into the fabric of this society.  I hate to say that I hate that God will once again be shelved after the media goes on to the next big calamity and the churches empty once again.

I hate that there are 20 families left having to explain the effects of evil to their surviving children; I hate that there may be families whose only child was stolen from them; I hate that it took 11 minutes for hundreds of children to have their innocence stripped away. I hate that there are 27 families (including that of the shooter) who are mourning during this Christmas season. I hate that there are families who are once again reliving their own personal nightmare.

This morning I did what I do every morning.  I woke my babies up, combed my daughter’s hair, got breakfast and did the most important thing I believe I could do for them….I laid my hands on each of them and prayed that the angel of the Lord would protect them, go before them; I prayed that the wisdom from above which is pure and peaceable would be in them and that no weapon formed against them would prosper.

I hate that 20 moms won’t be able to do the same today, but instead will be making plans to bury their babies.

I’m praying for God’s peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding…that it would guard our hearts and minds; that it would guard the hearts and minds of those affected by this tragedy and of those who have been on the mend….that they maintain their peace; that we would rise up as a nation and release the word of God over our government, our schools, our churches, our neighborhoods; that we not allow fear to disable us; I pray a hedge of protection around our children and loved ones.  I’m praying that the God of comfort would show Himself strong in the lives of those who are hurting; I’m praying for healing.  God, heal our land.

The Kitchen

dirty-kitchen

I had a check in my spirit from the first time I was introduced to the “kitchen” teaching.  It was introduced to me when I began my assent in ministry servant leadership sort of as a heads up of what happens in the behind the scenes.  Basically the teaching compares the inner working of a ministry to what happens in the kitchen at a busy restaurant where the tension is high, food is flung, toes are stepped on…all overlooked when the result is a beautifully served meal, worth all of the drama as the unsuspecting customer goes away well fed and watered.   I had the dvd at home on my desk but was never moved to watch it until I found myself poised to step into the kitchen.  I figured it was time to watch it and as I did I was not impressed. In fact my response was HUH?  I shelved the thought only to be reminded of it from time to time as newbies were being groomed.  Again, my spirit would be checked time after time.  Truthfully, I felt that all that kitchen talk was simply justification for poor behavior.

I had a conversation with a former staffer of a church who also held the same behind the scenes views and my “check” was confirmed when this person shared how they found it difficult to transition from a behind the scenes “server” to “well fed and watered customer” after having been behind the scenes and privy to the “kitchen.”  That stuck with me and again that teaching checked me.

I love “kitchen” shows.  There’s Top Chef/Top Chef Masters (my two favorites) and there are a host of others, one of which bears the name, “Hell’s Kitchen” which I’ve never seen, whose name pretty much proves my next point.  In watching Top Chef I have observed the behavior of the participants to be rude, obnoxious, unhelpful, competitive, cliquish, divisive, bullying and a host of other such adjectives.  This is typical kitchen behavior which is considered the norm and to some quite entertaining.  The more I heard of the “kitchen” teaching and then watched these shows, the more I realized that was a teaching which I know hurts the heart of the Father because that behavior should not be behavior His children partake in…period.

“Now the works of the flesh are evident which are:…idolatry, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy… But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.  Galatians 5:19-23

I’ve observed restaurant behavior…the servers running around hurriedly, stressed out, never able to engage with the people they are serving.   Afraid to make mistakes and going to great lengths to cover those made, always fearing the consequences of their mistake and never quite pleasing those they serve.  I always appreciate the waiter who lingers at our table and I have found that the tip is always a little more generous for that person.  I’ve also seen the chef in action… sweaty and rushed, irritated and sometimes barking at his staff.  There’s a lot of stress in the kitchen.

The last thing I’ve noticed is how unattractive a messy kitchen is..folks getting burned, slipping on the dirt…getting caught themselves in traps set for intruders.   If we walked into half the kitchens that served us, I doubt we’d ever return.  Is it worth it to go through all of the drama in order to serve up a great meal?  Who cleans the kitchen?  Does it ever get really clean?  Customers aren’t blind.  They catch glimpses of the kitchen, notice when their favorite servers are missing, have conversations with those who are left behind…those disgruntled servers.

When I finally asked the question, “Lord, where in the Word is this acceptable ministry behavior?” He pointed me to Martha and Mary.  The only place I’ve encountered any talk close to “kitchen” talk was when Jesus corrected Martha for being “worried and upset over details,” pointing out that Mary had “discovered the one thing about which to be concerned.” 

The answer to all of this?  He would love it if we would clean the kitchen, maintain the kitchen’s cleanliness, make repairs quickly and do maintenance checks to avoid major breakdowns/failures.  I suspect that there are also sharp knives in this clean kitchen, but they are used as intended and SAFELY stored away. 🙂

clean-kitchen

“Who here qualifies for the job of overseeing the kitchen? A person the Master can depend on to feed the workers on time each day.  Someone the Master can drop in on unannounced and always find him doing his job.  A God blessed man or woman, I tell you.  It won’t be long before the Master will put this person in charge of the whole operation. “Matthew 24:45-47 MSG

A Lesson in Humility (The last call)

Last-Call-Bar-Broadway-10-24-2009_5878-500x313“He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.” Isaiah 53:7 NLT

This is the Prophet Isaiah’s foretelling of the suffering of Jesus.  This ordeal begins with a false arrest, false accusations, a beating which should have ended His life and finally with an ending unbefitting a King.  What has always stood out for me were the words “he never said a word” – “he did not open his mouth.”  How is it possible to be falsely accused and tortured without at least attempting to defend oneself; to be given an opportunity to speak up, but choosing not to?

I am often reminded of those words when faced with a situation where I need to defend myself, especially in light of my background – being number 6 in a family of 7 where there was always something jumping off and where everyone in my family seemingly loved having the last word on a matter.  It’s difficult to hold your peace, especially with my upbringing where to remain silent was most likely an indication of guilt; when I have always been a scrapper, a fighter…where there has never been an altercation I’ve walked away from without administering that final shot.  It’s especially difficult when one’s meekness is mistaken as weakness, but that’s where the humility part reigns.

It has taken the utmost of self-control in my walk with Jesus to zip the lip and I must say that most times it’s been effortless, with the occasional instance where I’ve had to just about sweat blood not to “lay hands” on my adversaries or at least give them a piece of my mind…something none of us can afford to do!  I need all of my pieces.  Humility can be difficult…it stings, even hurts, but its rewards are longlasting.

And so there I was having written my brother what I thought was a compelling, encouraging letter replete with uplifting scriptures, my testimony and an admonishment to live life to the fullest, with a bit of a rebuke for wallowing in self pity.  (A letter most would receive and regard as one from someone who cares).  Not so with my brother who labeled me a nut, among other things, and was happy to call me long distance in order to serenade me with a perfectly pitched diatribe which included every cuss word in his extensive vocabulary.  We had been quite close as children…him the baby of the family born 19 months after me.  As adults we were making a comeback in closeness, as he had separated from the family quite a bit making appearances from time to time which ended many times in discord.  I was safe from the drama living so far away from the family, so we mainly kept in touch by telephone.  I was kept apprised of his rantings and was able to talk him down most times when he called me and our conversations always ended in an upswing.  I knew when I picked up the phone that this conversation would not end that way.  It would appear that I was the last stop on his cuss out the family tour.  He had never spoken to me that way and I was rattled.  I listened quietly waiting for the screaming to subside in order to tell him I was sorry he felt that way about me; I would continue to pray for him and that I was not going to allow him to disrespect me any further and with that I hung up.  He called right back and began his message (I did not pick up) with “You always have to have the last word, don’t you.”  He continued his barrage, ending it prophetically with “you’ll never see or hear from me again.”

…Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.  Luke 6:27

I did just that.  I prayed for my brother.  I had compassion for him.  My once vibrant and handsome, hilarious (we are a funny family and he was the king pin) and brilliant brother was no longer there.  The difficulties he had endured during his life, the losses he had sustained from which he was never able to recover, caused him to turn to alcohol as an elixir for his pain.  He was a master at being stealth so the family was caught by surprise to discover that his condition was life threatening.  A friend later recounted a conversation my brother had with his doctor who warned him that his life would be cut short if he did not stop drinking.  My brother had the nerve to respond by telling the doctor that he enjoyed a glass of wine from time to time with his dinner and asked whether that would be acceptable.  The doctor’s response was blunt…”the only table you’ll be pulling up to will be one at the morgue if you don’t stop.”

As I prayed for my brother, the Lord revealed a need that he had.  I contacted my sister (the one I knew remained in good standing with him) and I hatched a plan to send her some cash for her to forward to him.  I asked her to leave my name out of it knowing that his pride would not allow him to take the gift. She did so and a short time thereafter she received a letter from him thanking her and remarking that out of all of his sisters, she was the most loving (always was) and most sensitive to him.  My sister felt bad receiving that letter and wanted to expose the truth, but I forbid her from doing so.  I was surprised that I felt that way, actually.  Who wants to give someone else the credit for your good works?  My sister had also been talking to him about the Lord and so to me it was just as well that he believed it came from her.

Weeks later we received the news that our brother was hospitalized in dire condition.  I wrote about it HERE if you’d like to read and be encouraged:)  My brother passed away and after the shock had worn off, when I finally had some time by myself en route to Indiana for his funeral, I closed my eyes and ran through a host of memories from our childhood, our high school years, that amazing summer of ’78 when our family had solidified its closeness, (through a haze of marijuana and kegs of beer) – sorry Jesus:).  I laughed at the times he would hand out gifts for Christmas and tell each of us how much they cost.  I recalled the sports talk radio guys who would be on air giving him shout outs and asking for him to call in.  He was so smart and funny.  I remembered the joy he experienced when his daughter was born.  I skimmed over his difficult years (the death of his beloved baby boy being his death blow) and I settled on the last call…not the one that took him out…the one aimed at taking me out (our conversation). I remembered the first thing he said and the words he closed that awful message with that he left on my answering machine and realized they were in fact prophetic!!

1.  I did have the last word; and

2.  I never saw him or heard from him again.

It was hurtful to be spoken to that way by someone who was supposed to love you.  Growing up he always had my back and would have fought King Kong if he had to defend me.  It made me angry that he disrespected me that way.  I had only been kind to him when others weren’t so much.  I had entertained his foolishness when others had grown tired of him; I was so undeserving of his wrath.  With everything in me I wanted to strike back, but I held back and then only with the grace of God was I able to pray for him; to bless him.  Humility stings, it does hurt, but self control is necessary in order to maintain one’s peace so that one could hear clearly.  In the end, my reward came knowing that after all the hurt he inflicted, I was still able to hear, obey, forgive and bless and I did all of that never opening my mouth…but I did have the last word. 😛  I love you R…I miss you!

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A Foolish Mentor…A Wise Mentor…And a Mentee Who Knows the Difference

Mentoring is a dynamic relationship of trust in which one person enables another to maximize the grace of God in her/his life. – John Mallison, author of Mentoring to Develop Disciples and Leaders

My children remain in the “train up a child” phase of their upbringing (I dare say they may always be in that phase), but I’ve noticed my husband and I sliding more and more into the role of mentor to them. There’s still a whole lot of correction, but it seems the training, encouraging, teaching aspect has gotten deeper; the conversations more profound and heartfelt. When there is a need for correction I recognize the importance of treading softly over their heart so as to not kill their spirit. Being constructive, not condemning…adding some sweetness to an area of difficulty during correction to keep their heads up and in the game. That takes skill because I could be a bit passionate and semi dramatic (well more than semi) – and one of my cherubs is sensitive and requires my approval while the other is built to play poker! Mentoring can kill a spirit…this I know for sure.

I was a party to a relationship (strange way of phrasing that, I know) that had the underpinnings of a mentor/mentee deal. After knowing her from a distance, I had an opportunity to get to know her up close finally. I liked her from far away and grew to care deeply for her as I got to know her more intimately. I would have done just about anything for her (and just about did), always gladly. I defended, encouraged, prayed for, covered and served, expecting nothing in return. I thought this was a forever friend until the wheels came off the bus sending the bus careening out of control. (I told you I’m dramatic, right)? hehe

Why am I suddenly hearing the music to a Temptations song (Papa was a Rolling Stone)? There was something in the air during that time, and our conversation turned into accusations being hurled at me..instead of being asked questions, I was being told about something I had done, places I had been, people I had been with; my motives were being questioned and I was compared to people from her past whose actions were determined to be shady and unworthy of trust. I was stunned and couldn’t even form my thoughts in a way to present a coherent defense. I squeaked out a few words and the conversation ended with a knife and a plunge. I was told I was being “corrected” and then accused of having lost my prayer edge. (Oh man, them there was fighting words to me.) Somehow nothing that was said was more hurtful than that. I was sentenced to prayer and given times to do it. Um…huh? Here’s the part where the Lord just closed my ears to the rest of what was being said…He does that sometimes to protect me (or maybe the other party:)! Thanks, Lord. I stepped away from that assault conversation knowing that what had just occurred was not constructive and so not healthy; it was not correction…it was an attack, straight up and the accusations…all of them were false. The only thing I took away from that beat down conversation was that I, in fact, needed to pray…pray that I could get away from the situation as quickly as possible with no casualty count.

I was reminded of this incident this past week when I ran into a woman the Lord used to help me become the woman warrior I proudly am today. Someone who embraced me, poured into me, encouraged me, corrected me (not attacked and insulted me); promoted me in ministry…someone who believed that God’s hand was on me. I saw her and just about cried as I made my way to her. We hugged and held each other and hugged some more and after class we gravitated toward one another again and caught up, promising not to lose contact again and hugging some more.

Seeing Mrs. Bishop reminded me that I have been blessed with some rich relationships, strategically placed in my path to push me along in my destiny. Women who have taken the time to speak life into me; women who have seen in me what I probably would not have seen as clearly; who have celebrated my rowdiness and have loved me enough to reel me in. Strong women…no nonsense women. Those who taught me how to be quiet enough to hear the Lord; who taught me about the importance of submission; how vital a teachable spirit was. I knew the difference between correction for growth and correction as a weapon and I learned that under Mrs. Bishop.

I clearly recall telling the Lord that I would serve where the need was greatest…”Lord, use me,” I said. Well, shortly after that declaration I was approached by a leader asking me if the Lord had been speaking to me about serving in the youth ministry, where the need was great. “Uh, that would be a no,” I said and quickly high tailed my way outta there. I felt bad enough to call her when I got home and left her a message saying that I would do it if she really needed me. I didn’t hear back from her…Whew!!! I thought! I went before the Lord one more time and said “okay Lord, the next time I’m approached I’ll submit…I won’t seek a position, Lord…You’ll have to drop it in my lap, okay..in Jesus’ name.” That Saturday as I was running out of church leaving church after a women’s fellowship (I wasn’t the hang around and fellowship type:) I was followed by one of the female ministers who said “Mrs. Britt, you need to serve in the prayer room. There will be training next Saturday..report to Mrs. Bishop.” “Uh, yes ma’am”..and so I began my time of service in the prayer room under the leadership of Mrs. Bishop.

It took no time for me to realize that this was my calling and before long I found myself being promoted to “lead counselor” where soon my leadership-ability would be tested…my ability to make a judgment call and then deal with the consequences of that call (could I handle correction?) Would I pass the test? After service one cold and rainy night I was met in the prayer room by a woman who was desperate for prayer. During our conversation she divulged that she no longer wanted to live and the more she spoke, the more I realized that this situation was way over my head. I looked around and found that I was alone in the room, so in the absence of counsel, I made a split second decision to call for our Pastor who was steps away (something we had been told never to do). As I was preparing to leave that night Mrs. Bishop caught up to me and laid me out. Correction wasn’t even the word for the tongue lashing she gave me. I took it, apologized for overstepping my boundaries and walked away confused because I knew that I had heard from the Lord to consult with Pastor. I left that night deciding not to take offense at the way I was spoken to and I felt the peace of God. I saw Mrs. Bishop a few days later and after service, she approached me and knelt down next to where I sat. She took my hands and looked me in the eyes and asked me to forgive her for the way she had spoken to me. She told me that I had heard from the Lord and that I had made the right call and that Pastor had acknowledged the seriousness of the situation in that had he not intervened, there was a great chance that that woman would have done harm to herself that night. It took great humility for her to apologize and I loved her more than ever at that moment. She and I grew even closer after that day and when she became President of the women’s fellowship, she asked me to be her Vice-President.

The lessons I learned from my mentor were invaluable, many which have remained with me. How important it is to be humble (not to think highly of oneself); how freeing it is to submit, to yield; how empowering it is to forgive and seek forgiveness; how valuable it is to remain teachable and correctable; how vital it is to know when you have heard from the Lord and to stand your ground; how necessary it is not to allow those who lead you to break your spirit.

I was so grateful to the Lord for having Mrs. Bishop and I cross paths again. One of the women I lead in small group witnessed our “love fest” and approached us and after I introduced her to the woman who was instrumental in teaching me how to pray, she said some really nice things about me, to which Mrs. Bishop responded…”Arlene had it in her all the time…God is using her.” That was amazing coming from her…it was real coming from her…I believed it coming from her. Thank God for true mentors!

“It is essential that mentors be loving enough to correct (Proverbs 27:5-6) and caring enough to affirm (Hebrews 10:24).”

“I TOLD YOU SO….”

“And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart…But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”  Genesis 6:6,8

God’s eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth in order to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.  His eyes settled on Noah who was doing something right.  What could that have been?  We could guess by the way he was described, that he had a relationship with God and spoke of Him freely; we could surmise that as a family man, he ran a tight ship (no pun intended, but it works:); we see that he was obedient and most likely mocked and judged; probably considered the neighborhood loon.  Chances are better than great that he was accused of being judgmental, critical, hateful; and if he would have had a Facebook page, I know he would have had only four friends…maybe seven.  But guess what…Noah was right!  I wonder if as he floated away he screamed out of one of those portholes….”I TOLD YOU SO!!!.”

I was pontificating with my sister the other day  on the phone the other day with my sister, the same one I would spend hours on the phone with cussing and carrying on about our views on life and stuff and during this conversation we touched on how far we’ve come from those days…how much our views on life and stuff have changed only because we have changed…thank God, we have changed! 🙂

I lived hard for the devil before I said yes to Christ, so it’s not surprising to anyone who knew me back then to see me live hard for Jesus now.  I was passionate about every view I pontificated about; held them hard and fast and would step up to whomever disrespected (or even disagreed with me).  A pastor I know once talked about having “bull dog faith” and he related the story of how strong his dog’s jaws were when they locked onto something.  He would play tug of war with him and his dog would be lifted off of the ground in a spin and no matter how fast he was spun, he was not going to let go of that rag.  That was me before Jesus and not much has changed, except I’m on the winning side now!

The part of the scripture above that has stayed with me since we began our study on Genesis in our bible study is how grieved God was with man.  I was touched at how God had such high hopes for man from the beginning only to have man’s incessant desire to oppose God; man’s disregard and disrespect of God; man’s desire to be like God, keep him from experiencing life as God had intended.  How sad that not much has changed and how daunting the feeling that I have that a reset or “redo” is due.  Last week we touched on the Tower of Babel and how unity which opposed God’s direction had to be broken up, but how telling the strength of unity is when God Himself said, “Indeed, the people are one and they have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.”  Oh that we (His people who are called by His name) could say that to be the case regarding the full counsel of His word now.

How grieved God must be to see the body of Christ fractured once again, looking anything but united.  How grieved must He be to know that the Bible, His word speaking to us, remains the most popular book never read; never obeyed.  How grieved must He be to hear His people say, God’s choice will be the President,  when He’s given us the ability to choose and to do so with His heart and His will in mind as WE choose.  Last I heard, God doesn’t vote.  How grieved must He be when He raises men and women of the word to declare His word fully and they don’t or are afraid to do so for fear of losing what doesn’t belong to them anyway; and even more grieved when His word is twisted and not even believed by those He’s raised to shepherd HIS people!  How grieved must He be when we thumb our noses at His word which is really clear on marriage; on killing; on Israel, the Apple of His eye.  How grieved must He be?  Only time will tell just how grieved.

I’m praying…more fervently than ever that the remnant would arise and declare His word over our nation; our families; our churches; God’s people (all of them); that the righteous would rise up and be heard; that we stop grieving God, whose hand shall remain on our country; on our families; our churches; His people (all of them) as long as He can search the world and find someone He can show Himself strong on behalf of, whose heart is loyal to Him…will that someone be you?

“If My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves, pray, seek, crave, and require of necessity My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.  NOW my eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer offered in this place.”  2Chronicles 7:14-15 AMP

A Wrong Turn Down Memory Lane

Taking a walk down memory lane is the best and the worst thing we can do. My husband and I were doing just that yesterday, the conversation starting off pretty funny and pleasant and with one wrong turn, I stumbled down a lane riddled with thorns, speed bumps, pot holes and quick sand. I completely ignored the Holy Spirit who was holding up a sign that said “Road Closed.” Ugggh!!! It was amazing how with one question, I found myself taken back down a road I should have never been on; one which I just knew I would never visit again. I would tip toe past it from time to time; I’d even do a “fly over,” being very careful not to set foot down that path again, but here I was reliving it all over again, allowing the thorns to once again pierce me; being slowed down by the speed bumps as I tried in vain to quickly get off that lane, tripping on the many pot holes which littered a once beautiful lane….stopping short of the quicksand which I knew if I would tread on it would take me down…no way I’d let it take me down again!

So I side stepped the quicksand and found myself at the end of that once lovely lane feeling like Lot’s wife who was to be spared but just couldn’t resist looking back one last time.  Looking back is just not natural when what you are looking at is just not pleasant. What’s wrong is that a glance over your shoulder to a time of adversity should only serve to strengthen your resolve not to pay adversity another visit…not if you can help it, anyway!  Sometimes we allow adversities to paralyze our forward motion.  The problem is that a glance becomes a stare, becomes a lingering gaze and before you know it you’re hot once again. I was bummed that I had stirred up emotions that were supposed to be “dead” and as I turned back to continue doing what I had been doing before my husband and I began “reminiscing,” I thought to myself, what would make it better?  What could be done to finally bring closure?  Would opening my heart to a “public viewing” help?  Would a confrontation be the ticket?  In the end the only one hurt is the one needing pay back so the answer is no….a big fat resounding NO!

Vindication ain’t all it’s cracked up to be…so you get heard and understood and then what? Though the speed bumps are flattened, the thorns trimmed and the pot holes filled, it’s still up you to make the choice not to allow yourself to be swallowed up by that quicksand..the quicksand of anger, hurt, bitterness…sucks you in to take you out!

In the end, I took a dose of my own medicine and began to think about all the good that resulted from that time; how God uses every part of our lives…every season we encounter to grow us and show us things about others, but mostly about ourselves.  What I learned about me is that I am one tough cookie! I do have self control…shocking for someone who at one time in her life would go from zero to 60 in a blink. I learned what I’ve always known to be the case…Because I love hard, when hurt comes I take it hard; I learned that I love truth, so when lies and accusations are hurled I react; I learned that love is a verb…ALWAYS and at all times; I learned that “I’m sorry” is way overused and trust is earned; I learned that I am quite discerning, so I’m rarely surprised, but sometimes shocked!! I learned never to allow myself to be placed on a pedestal again and if I slip up, I’ll make sure it’s close to the ground:)

I hit the light and in the dark, I decided that renewing my mind with the word of God was still the best approach so as I envisioned myself walking around the patch of quicksand at the end of that once lovely lane, the scripture which came to mind was “It is Finished” – for now anyway!

Why Would God Allow That?

“Why would God allow that to happen?”  That to me is the most difficult question I’ve been asked as a Christian.  It’s easy to respond with the typical, “God’s ways are not our ways;” “God is sovereign;” “The mysteries belong to God;” or even “I have no idea, ask God” – each response acceptable but the day I fielded this question, I knew that any of those responses wouldn’t fly with this broken, young Christian woman struggling to find her way as a new believer.  I knew her continued relationship with the Lord hung precariously on whether I’d be able to offer some kind of clarity to something that had hurt her so deeply and threatened to drive a wedge between her and the Lord.

And so I sat in my kitchen with Elizabeth as she flat ironed my hair, chatting away.  The conversation soon turned serious as she grew comfortable enough to drop her guard, allowing me access to a situation which threatened to alter her perception of the love of God.  I began to pray as her story spilled out….

Elizabeth was a single mother struggling to make ends meet.  Her ex-husband was paying child support which she greatly relied on, although it was still barely enough to sustain her and their daughter.  He used child support as leverage in order to get his way at every turn.  He was due to pick his daughter up on a Friday and didn’t show up when he said he would so Elizabeth put her down for the night.  The phone rang at around 9:00p.m. or so and it was him saying he would be picking her up by 10:30.  Elizabeth explained that their daughter was already in bed and he could pick her up early the next day.  He grew belligerent and insisted that he be allowed to at least see her and after a shouting match, Elizabeth relented.  She hung up the phone angry that she had given in, and feeling uneasy about him coming over.  When he arrived his motives were made clear to Elizabeth when soon after he gained entrance, he began to interrogate her regarding her male friendships.  Their exchange became violent, first with a push, which escalated to a slap and further escalated with her being raped by him.  No, she didn’t press charges…she still relied on his support and he was her daughter’s father, but imagine the shock and then utter devastation to discover that as a result of that act of violence, she was pregnant again.  There was no way she could afford another child and the thought that this child was unwelcomed pierced her heart.  She considered abortion as an alternative but before doing so, she went to her church for counsel, where she received the most ungodly counsel imaginable.  She was told that since this child was not conceived in love, it would be okay for her to terminate the pregnancy.  She left that session as confused as ever; however as confused as she was, she just knew that advice was wrong.  Unfortunately, stress did what her conscience forbid and she miscarried that baby, which took care of her immediate “problem,” while leaving her hanging on the ledge where her faith and trust in God were concerned…and here I was at the end of her story handing her tissue, poised to field the most difficult question ever!  “If God loves me, why would He allow that to happen to me?”

While she was speaking, I was praying,  seeking and inquiring of the Lord how best to respond to his daughter.  I asked her simply if she at any time had a “feeling”– church folk call it an “unction,” that she should stick to her decision not to allow him to come over that night.  “Yes,” she said.  “Did it get stronger when he appeared at your door?”  She said that by the time he appeared at the door, she was downright scared to open it.  I explained to her that I believe that was the Lord speaking to her…warning her… through that “feeling” and through her fear to open the door.  She was pensive for a few minutes and truthfully, with every fiber within me, I believed I told her correctly, but  still held my breath waiting for her reaction.  She accepted that explanation.  I also showed her how on point she was to second guess the “advice” she was given by the church counselor and explained to her how God was speaking to her in that situation.  I encouraged her telling her that God loves her; He’s speaking all the time and though she may not have heeded his warning that one fateful night, she does hear from Him, as evidenced by her decision not to terminate her pregnancy.

God is always speaking and warning, but if we don’t have “ears to hear,” then He’s speaking to Himself.  Elizabeth floated in and out of my life just that quickly and I think of her often, hoping that she’s been able to strengthen her relationship with the Lord.  She is a trophy of His grace and I pray that she is lifting His name up and drawing other women, who like her have faced difficult times, have made difficult choices, but can say that God loved them enough to show them how to be slow to speak and quick to listen; how to be led by His Spirit; how to trust Him for all that is lacking; how to rely on Him, His strength, His wisdom, His power to sustain and maintain them.

“For great is His love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.”  Psalm 117:2 NIV

A Perfectly Woven Web, Part II

You can catch up by clicking here and reading Part I –https://armouredup.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/a-perfectly-woven-web/

I couldn’t have been happier seeing Mary come out of the grocery store pulling her luggage, a look of uncertainty in her eye.  Her outward look matched mine; however, I wore mine on the inside.  We embraced and she confessed that she woke up that morning uncertain that she would be joining us and was close to canceling.  “I’m so glad you came,” is what came out of my mouth, but what I was thinking was, if she had cancelled, I would have also.  We boarded the bus warily, I’m sure each of us skeptical for different reasons…she, never being around so many Christian women in so intimate a setting and I in the midst of healing after having my trust breached (once again) by Christians.  We pull off, eyebrows raised, destination known, future uncertain…with only God knowing what the condition of our hearts would be on the ride back home.  During the ride I pointed out Rashayna and told her that I wanted to introduce them that weekend.  She stared at her for a while and said she looked so familiar to her.  We settled in and chatted the rest of the way about nothing and everything.  We arrived and were given our room assignments and instructions to meet in the dining room.  We met our other roommates, a sister who had recently discovered she was expecting after the devastating loss of child born extremely premature just a few months prior and our fourth roommate was a woman I had never met, but was strangely drawn to with a story which would prove to blow back all of our hair.  She was one of the speakers and all I knew about her was that she had a story!!  The Weaver was busy weaving…

After dinner, we gathered in our meeting room.  I found seats for us and held my breath as the program began with worship.  I so wanted her to be comfortable and I was straining to focus as our first speaker took the microphone; opened up in prayer and began to talk about the many veils we wear as women to mask our feelings.  <“Breath, Arlene, she’s talking to you,” is what I kept hearing…”Let Me handle Mary and you just receive.  I am God, you know.”>  Note to self and the reader….Uh, God is God and we are not!  How refreshing is that??? – With an exhale, I began the process of entering in that rest I so needed, casting my care and Mary over to Him and guess what?  It works!  I spotted Mary taking page after page of notes.  Our next speaker talked about the labels we wear as women; some self-imposed, some inherited, some given to us, some of which stick and alter our perspectives, our choices, our decisions. Was that a tear I saw Mary wipe away or was that mine blocking my vision?  The program closed and a spontaneous decision was made for all of us to take a walk to a fire pit where our weekend’s leader kicked down “discomfort’s door” and with transparency that later Mary would say moved her beyond belief, she welcomed us into her pain and floored us with the details of what was currently raging in her personal life, threatening to prove that God had forgotten her and her family.  That opened up the door to many other women sharing intimate details.  I noticed that Mary had sat with Rashayna and they had been chatting.  I sat off to the side  praying that Mary would get up and unmask the enemy giving her an opportunity to disarm him in the company of some powerful women. Just as our time that first night as a group was coming to an end…the cold becoming a bit much and just as I was pleading to the Lord for her to raise her hand, Mary did just that and with the strength that I saw in our leader just moments before, she stood up, introduced herself and poured out what she had shared with me, ending her introduction with something like, “I’m not sure exactly why I’m here and I don’t know if I’ll ever believe the way you all do, but I’m here,” and that, my friend, is all that God needed to hear!

We retired to our rooms, some too amped to stay behind closed doors and us four opting  for a more intimate setting in our room.  Kim, the woman I was so drawn to began to share a little of her testimony.  I noticed her peace, how beautifully she spoke…both gently and confidently, with so much ease.  Mary, who is as smart as a whip, and Kim began engaging as I listened.  Kim answered some pretty difficult questions with such practicality and with a deftness I hadn’t seen in a while.  She too, had miscarried her baby just six weeks prior and would be sharing her story.  She hesitantly shared that she had a picture of her 12 week old baby and asked if we wanted to see.  She also wanted our opinion as to whether it would be too shocking to share as part of her story.  God worked it out that our fourth roomie was fast asleep and missed our conversation altogether.  Kim shared the picture of her baby and she just beamed as she showed us.  That picture would prove to change Mary’s mind regarding the horror of abortion.  God…on the move even up to the time we turned our lights out and said goodnight.  I’m sure Mary had a lot going on that she was processing, as I fell asleep thinking about Kim and her amazing faith.

I have asked Kim’s permission to share her testimony, one which she so powerfully shared with us on the next day, which concluded with a letter she had written to her baby the day after she miscarried, along with the picture she took of her baby.   Kim’s response to my request was “Of course.  Anyone who values your writing, I’m confident will value what God has and is doing through that letter and photo.  It’s funny that you bring up Mary…when this woman who I did not know (with wavering faith) looked at the photo and said, ‘I don’t think I’m Pro-Choice anymore,’ I knew God was going to do great things with this.  I trust whatever you decide.”  Here is a link to that letter and photo.  http://wynottme.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/dear-baby/

The next day Mary woke up with a lightness to her.  After breakfast, we met once again to hear our sisters speak on topics varying from dealing with envy and strife to one of my personal favorites…the testimony given by the former Miss Alabama and powerhouse woman of God about faith and the word and how to wield it while God works in accordance with it.  We took a break for some quiet time with the Lord, after which we would have lunch, some free time and then back for the beginning of Mary’s long-awaited breakthrough…when Rashayna would share what appeared to be a message prepared just for Mary’s ears.

Rashayna has a soothing voice which has a buttery or velvet-like texture to it and she began speaking from the back of the room as a video played.  She showed the Lifehouse skit “You’re All I Need,” which tells the story of a young girl having found Jesus, only to be wrestled away by the demons of her past, and the fight which ensues and ultimate victory as Jesus breaks through to win her back.  Rashayna shared her message with the precision of  a surgeon and I knew without a doubt that this message was the most important message that Mary would hear that weekend…this would be the message which she would never forget and later, Mary would confirm that to be the case.  At the end of Rashayna’s message, prayer was offered and as I opened my eyes, there was Mary making her way forward.  Of course I began directing traffic in my head saying….”no, don’t go that way, go to the right, towards Rashayna…no stop!”  Another sister reached Rashayna before Mary could, but God had a better plan.  As the evening drew to a close, after many more tears, it was time to head back for the night.  Mary said she wanted to stay behind for a minute.

A minute turned into at least 2-3 hours as Rashayna swooped in and spoke to her in a language only they recognized, their past beliefs, experiences and circumstances being eerily similar.   Mary met her match in Rashayna who is extremely intelligent with the most tender heart.  Rashayna was firm, tough as nails and determined not to allow Mary to wear her out with her questions and stubbornness.  One of my favorite lines that the Lord dropped into Rashayna for her to deliver was one which gave Mary pause to think about and for which she had no response.  It went something like this – “The philosophies and beliefs you have, have gotten you to this point.  They are no longer serving you and the lifestyle you are striving for.  It is time to establish new philosophies and beliefs based on the Truth.”   Can’t you just hear that “ZING” where you are?   Just as we were wondering aloud where Mary was, she appeared at the door with a tear-stained face, red nose, looking like she had been in a fight and had lost!  haha. Rashayna followed her in looking pretty spent as well.  She told her to tell us what she had just done.  It took her a minute to form her words, but she said it and when she did I could have just fallen out again, but I kept my composure as I heard her say, “I gave my heart to Jesus…I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior.”  I went to sleep that night with the biggest smile and with a heart filled with gratitude…in awe at how God had moved and planned and orchestrated so many circumstances, situations and events in order to make Himself known to one, while healing the heart of another.  (My journey to healing began on the zipline, which I shared a while back in my blog titled, “Zipline to Freedom.”)

Our final morning together, Mary got dressed up in her Sunday best and I asked her (although I knew the answer) why she was wearing heels.  She said, “I’m going to church…I think I can make the 1:00 service when we get back.”  hehehe  One of the last things I said to her the night before was that she should prepare for a bumpy ride, since the enemy is not happy at all about losing one of his soldiers and those words were prophetic.  Soon after she arrived at church that day, she received a message from back home that her mom was being hospitalized and it was serious.  Mary’s first text to me was a prayer request.  Here’s what she wrote…”Just got a text…my mom is in the hospital.  My dad, sis and mom r in such fear. I’m at service and will stay here then call my family. What r some scriptures that I can pray for my mom. I don’t feel equipped with the bible and jesus and I feel I will be on a plane to Chicago by tomorrow.”   God was wooing her back to her family, the family she had disengaged from for years.  She was in Los Angeles…as far away as possible from her former life and the crippling pain she had run from seven years before.  She arrived in Chicago with her notes from the weekend which she used to strengthen herself and her mom.  Here’s another text she sent me giving me an update.  “…The good thing is she is asking for jesus to help her and he is right here with me…I prayed over her when I first got here but I now need to do it again and feel confident without doubt.”  God moved on her mom’s behalf.  Mary made the decision to move back to Chicago to pick her life back up and move forward.  She has found a church and is serving and just recently shared with me that her mother, sister and aunt have all received Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

A couple of weeks ago she was in town and she and I met with Rashayna over lunch and I was able to rest my eyes on a miracle.  While she spoke, I marveled once again at how far she had come, recognizing that the Lord was still doing a work in her in order to complete His “takeover” of every stronghold that attempts to linger.  I sat back staring at the two of them visiting the memory of what I just wrote about and as I write this I am teary once again at the lengths our Heavenly Father will go to in order to prove His unfailing love.  As life will have it, Mary is back in Chicago, Rashayna and her family are packing to move to another state and here I remain amazed that for that moment back in February our lives merged and what began as a favor for a friend (Victoria) became a story woven so beautifully, so intricately that no one person could ever take the credit for…for it was the Master Weaver at work behind it all.

“How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!” Psalm 36:7 NIV

A Perfectly Woven Web

When God has His sights set on someone, there’s no changing His mind.  He will move heaven and dip into hell to free the one who’s lost; He’ll leave the 99 to go after the 1 and He’ll use you to do it.  I received a prayer request about a lost dog and I found myself praying like never before that Comet would be found.  “Lord, show Yourself strong on behalf of this situation; prove that You have heard their cry and bring back Comet.”  Well, He heard; He moved and Comet is back at home.  I revisited this prayer request and once again marveled at its request-or.  I smiled as I recalled how God put us together, once again recalling with amazement the perfectly woven web He created…too perfect to be regarded as coincidence.  So perfect, it could only be God!!

Earlier this year, I received a 911 call from Victoria, a sister from church, about her friend (who had just started attending our church) who had absolutely stretched her to the point where she felt her counsel would be fruitless.  She said she called me because of the counsel I had given her in the past and she looked up to me, etc. etc…you see where this is going too, huh?  She wanted to know if I knew “someone” who could minister to this fiery little Puerto Rican.  Victoria knew exactly what she was doing, but as I listened I wondered if I would be up for this challenge, since I was still licking my wounds from a hurt I had sustained.  (God saw this as a perfect opportunity for me to finally disengage from my pity party…hearing myself encourage someone else using His word would no doubt shake me out of my funk.)  Of course, I took her number and called her and we spoke for quite a while and though she quietly listened, I felt that I needed to see her and sensed a bit of urgency since Victoria informed me that she was off to see a “spiritual healer” later that week.  I switched some things around and met her at Starbucks where we met over coffee, tears and transparency.  She released a whole lot about herself, her past, her present and her uncertain future, all pointing to someone who was desperate, scared and wanting to change…needing to change, but not having a clue where to begin.  As she was talking there was a familiarity about her.  I figured it was that we were both Puerto Rican…both fast talkers (not in the shady way) and I knew all about the fire I was picking up from her…that stubbornness…strength…loyalty…genuineness…love of family.  Let the weaving begin…

I wanted to switch channels to give her a minute to recover so I asked her about her family…where they lived currently…where they were from in Puerto Rico.  Her response almost knocked me out of my chair.  Her family is currently living in Chicago (I have family spread out in Chicago and Indiana).  Her extended family on her mom’s side lives in a small (I mean super small town) in Puerto Rico…the kinda small that says that if you meet someone who is from there, the chances are great that you are related somehow)…well as it turns out, my parents are both from this small town as well (they are NOT related, thank you very much:) and we’ve narrowed it down to where we must be related on my dad’s side since we share the same family name.  Get outta here!!  God’s got jokes indeed.  Now, it has become personal and I am fully invested.  We say our goodbyes and I promise to keep in touch…Oh, you bet I did!!  And so the weaving continues..

I got home and called my girlfriend who was busy preparing her message for a weekend retreat where she would be sharing her testimony.  She was excited at the prospect of my having met a potential family member and joined me in awe of that divine appointment.  She shared what she would be speaking on and as I listened I realized that her testimony was one that my newly acquired family member, “Mary,” needed to hear.  Rashayna would be able to speak to her and touch those areas that I would be unable to reach because she had the benefit of experience and had been to those places from which Mary was struggling to be freed.  Rashayna suggested that I invite Mary to the retreat (DUH, me) and I jumped on it!!  Remember Victoria the girl who called me to counsel Mary?  Well, I was reminded that she and Rashayna were former roommates and I later discovered that all three of these women worked for the same organization at one point.  Mary had heard of Rashayna.  Coincidence?  Nope…just part of that perfectly woven web.

I got “Mary’s” voicemail and left her a message inviting her to the retreat, telling her that I know that she’d be blessed by it.  I explained that I realized that it was super short notice and that she shouldn’t allow finances to affect her decision about going.  She would be covered.  I hung up the phone and prayed for her.  I knew the enemy was working overtime to keep her isolated.  I felt that she was probably regretting sharing all that she had with me and was most likely wishing that I’d just go away.  Rashayna and I began to pray for her.  Mary and I traded phone calls and we finally connected, she being prompted to trust me by Victoria (whose phone I was absolutely blowing up) trying to ensure that she get ahold of Mary since I couldn’t seem to get her to answer.  Persistence and I are one:)

I had to now brace myself for the retreat.  I wasn’t really too keen on going myself.  I didn’t want to process any pain in front of anyone…me and my hurt little self could handle it on our own as we usually did.  I knew this would not be the case now that Mary had agreed to join me.  I still wasn’t keen on going but now I had a purpose…oh silly me — who am I to think I have anything under control…the web was half way completed.

I couldn’t have been happier seeing Mary come out of the grocery store pulling her luggage, a look of uncertainty in her eye.  Her outward look matched mine; however, I wore mine on the inside…

I’m going to pause here and pick it up tomorrow.  I don’t want the length of this one to scare anyone away.  🙂

“For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome.”  Then you will call upon Me, and you will come and pray to Me, and I will hear and heed you.  Than you will seek Me., inquire for, and require Me (as a vital necessity) and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.  I will be found  by you, says the Lord, and I will release you from captivity…”Jeremiah 29:11-14a AMP

I Wanna Live on Holy Hill in a Sacred Tent

Today during my prayer time, I came across Psalm 15.  I love a good checklist and tend to tell the truth (in my head) while I’m reading that checklist.  If I don’t like my answers, I just keep on flipping the pages for something more pleasant, but those answers stay with me.  OY!!!

v. 1 Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?  Who may live on your holy mountain?  (I’m good here, because I want to…I really do!  Oh Lord, may I?)

v. 2 The one whose walk is blameless (uh oh), who does what is righteous (subject to interpretation), who speaks the truth from their heart (I’m feeling pretty good now, kinda);

v. 3 Whose tongue utters no slander (ummm…), who does no wrong to a neighbor (I don’t try to), and casts no slur on others (uh, Proverbs 31 anyone?) – If this entire verse could be removed, I’d be feeling a lot better!

v. 4 who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the Lord (I’m working on despising the deed not the doer…that’s good, right?); who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind (I got this…no longer clenching my jaw!);

v. 5 who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent (piece of cake).

Whoever does these things will never be shaken.

So, am I a candidate to dwell (remain, abide, stay) in His sacred tent or on Holy Hill?  Wanting to is not good enough, it seems.  (“If you are willing AND obedient, you will eat the good of the land.” Isaiah 1:19)  Having great intentions won’t get me where I wanna be, either!  That stinkin’ tongue!!  The truth is we all have work to do.  The bar is set so high lest we walk around puffed up monitoring other people’s checklists while we move into pride, marveling at how perfect we are and shunning those who just don’t measure up.  Humility goes a long way!

I was checked this morning and am thankful for ears to hear and a willingness to allow Him in to shed His light on the areas in most need of adjusting so that I can humbly claim my spot in the best campsite ever…that sacred tent on Holy Hill!

Hiking shoes (check); rod – to swipe at any enemies trying to impede my progress (check); blinders – can’t afford to be distracted (check); mind stayed on Him (check); pressing forward.  Here I come, Lord…save me a spot!!

“Lord, set a guard over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips; give me ears to hear and a tenderness for those You’ve placed in my life so that I may speak words of life and hope, kindness and mercy.  Give me the grace to quickly forgive and the ability to walk in the agape kind of love that bears up under anything and everything, overlooks wrongdoing, keeps no record, believes the best and endures without weakening…in Jesus’ name.”

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