By guest blogger India Amos
When I think of my childhood, it’s full of memories of me telling stories. I often wrote them down, I sometimes told them out loud, and they always meandered through my mind.
My childhood summers in West Virginia were long and largely uneventful, and I’d spend hour after hour traipsing through the worlds of my imagination.
When life became challenging, I would slip away to a universe that was entirely my own. In a few short words, I could be a pirate or fearless treasure hunter who traveled the world in search of something incredible. There, my real reality didn’t matter as much because I had created one of my own.
This one felt safer, so I stayed there longer than I should have.
I had just entered my teen years when things started to change. They always do, and they always change for the worse when we do not invite God into our narrative.
Life became harder, and I didn’t know how to cope. The only skill I had was to disappear because that’s all I’d ever practiced.
The older I got, though, the less it worked.
“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10a NKJV).
My imagination, which had once been a pasture of comfort, dissolved into a den of snares. Now, when I slipped into my thoughts, I was met with hisses of hostility.
Everyone hates you. They just tolerate you out of pity.
You’re trash — just look at yourself. Nobody could ever love you.
You should just disappear. Nobody would notice anyway.
Give up now. What’s the point of living another day when all you’ll ever have is this?
It didn’t take long for the whispers to become shouts. They echoed in the chambers of my mind like voices in a cavernous courtroom, each one a condemning accusation about the person I was tricked into believing I was and the one I was convinced I always would be.
Instead of being comforted by picturesque stories, my thoughts were consumed by these worst-case scenarios and catastrophes. And just as my peaceful musings seeped into my reality, these paralyzing fears did, too. Eventually I couldn’t even separate which was real reality and which was my reality. For more than three years, I existed in an in between-ness that stretched me and strained me until I had one foot in this world and another foot somewhere else entirely.
I was here in the flesh, but my mind had been hijacked by another reality — one where it really was better if I just gave up on everything and slowly peeled myself away.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
I met Jesus a year after I moved to Florida, and my anxiety and depression were drowning me. I had just been assaulted in Miami, and my patience for living was so thin, if I held it up to the light, I could almost see through it.
“But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine'” (Isaiah 43: 1 NKJV).
When I met God, everything changed. Since I had little in my life that I valued, I had little to cling to. I gave everything I could think of to the Lord — my hobbies, jobs and friends. He worked true miracles out of each of those scenarios, but I couldn’t see a way for my mind to be redeemed.
It had been years since I could sit in a silent room by myself without my thoughts trapping me in an endless cycle of “what ifs.” I didn’t believe life could be any different.
“You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book?” (Psalm 56:8 NKJV)
God is all-powerful, but He did not take away my anxiety and depression instantaneously. He could have, but He didn’t. When the panic attacks would come even after I had professed Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I sometimes resented Him for it.
If He were God Almighty, why wouldn’t He save me from the suffering?
Now that my anxiety attacks are almost nonexistent, I have a clearer understanding as to why the Lord didn’t dissolve all my anxious thoughts in a single heartbeat: It wouldn’t have been for my benefit, and I wouldn’t have gotten to know Him through the pain.
“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
Now, I wasn’t fighting alone. When the panic attacks and bouts of depression came, I didn’t have to run from them anymore; instead, I could walk through them with God. With Jehovah-Nissi as my banner, light flooded into the shadows of my mind, slowly but faithfully reclaiming the territory I had unknowingly given away to the enemy.
It didn’t happen overnight, but it happened. Wherever light shines, the darkness has no choice but to retreat. Eventually, the anxious thoughts became less frequent. Now, they’ve all but disappeared.
God did what I wanted Him to do for me, but because He is rich in mercy, He hadn’t done all He wanted to do for me.
“So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, The crawling locust, The consuming locust, And the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, And praise the name of the Lord your God, Who has dealt wondrously with you; And My people shall never be put to shame” (Joel 2:25-26 NKJV).
Slowly, the Lord began to beckon me back into my imagination. As I read His Word, my curiosity was piqued. The Bible is full of concrete concepts and images, but I’m always captivated by God’s mystery and the fact that there are some things we just won’t know on this side of heaven.
What will it be like to worship God endlessly?
How would I feel to walk side by side with the Lord?
What color is agape? What does it taste like?
Where does He really store the snow?
These are the questions my mind craves, and God is faithful to meet me there. But because I’m a broken human still, thoughts colored by depression are still likely to appear in my mind sometimes. Sometimes they appear when I’m reading the Bible. Other times, they seemingly arise out of the blue.
But now, instead of succumbing to them, I can stand against them. They do not have to be my reality anymore. The Lord has already overcome the world (John 16:33), which means He has already overcome the battle in my mind, too.
If I fight alongside Him, I cannot lose.
So now, when these thoughts arise, I don’t accept them as reality. Instead, I do my best to fix my eyes on eternity (2 Corinthians 4:18), and I think about the life I’ll live far longer than the one I’m journeying through now.
One of the things I most look forward to in heaven is taking trips with Jesus. We’ll have a redeemed universe, after all, and nothing about God’s character indicates that he made a whole universe for it to sit there untouched. I believe in heaven, we get to explore it.
Until that day comes, I can do it in my imagination. And I have found that nothing makes the enemy flee like walking through the land God reclaimed for me.
I do this by leaning into my imagination. And in my imagination, I like to explore eternity.
Sometimes, I’m walking through the desert, and Emmanuel is with me. We might be in the redeemed version of Arizona or Egypt, but everything is still and silent, save a flicker of sand dusting over my shoes as the wind blows. It’s peaceful, and I’m loved.
Other times, we’re in the jungles of Brazil or Thailand just to watch the animals. I’m not scared because I’m safe with Jesus. Instead of fear, I feel joy and wonder.
And sometimes, we go even farther to explore the marvelous bits of creation that are just beyond grasp for this lifetime. I like to imagine us watching diamonds rain from the sky on Neptune or dancing on Jupiter as a perfect eternity stretches on forever. We laugh because it’s incredible, and I smile because we’re together.
Until it happens in reality, it happens in my imagination. And because the end is already written, that is enough for now.
If you find yourself negotiating, “Lord, You can have it all, except this one thing?” you are not alone. Quite the contrary, so many brave sisters have approached me, one by one, in strictest confidence, trembling and asking the question they dread the answer to, the one question they can’t shake:
“Do I really have to?”
The specifics involved vary; for some it’s a relationship, for others a job or a stance they fear to take. Their common ground is that this issue compromises their conscience, and much as they try, it won’t go away. It’s almost okay. It’s not that big a deal.
By the time they come to me, they feel sandwiched between two fears:
One one hand: what if I really do have to let this go, this, my most precious idol? It would be unbearable, an amputation of pieces of my soul… Or what if God takes it from me by force?
On the other hand: what if the conviction grows dull? What if I resist the voice of God long enough that He gives up on me?
Both are real risks.
I’ve been there, too.
In my early walk, it was everything: my friends, my dance, my country, even my cat! Because I always felt like I was experiencing life, and especially worship, through a glass wall, frustrated in prayer one day, I asked Him why. That kind of exasperated prayer where you’re not really expecting a reply as much as just the relief of letting it out.
But the answer was unshakable:
“Your life is like a hand that is so full of your own choices that there is very little room for Me. To the degree you make room for Me, to that degree you will feel alive.”
Each needed to be a voluntary offering. I needed to feel the impact of choice, of willingly bringing each Isaac to the altar (Genesis 22:1-18). Each offering hurt appropriately, like the cutting of a covenant that is much more bloody than it sounds (Genesis 15:9-17).
I remember feeling so alone, naked, and dismembered before Him — a barren soul in a howling wilderness.
But just long enough to feel that vast space my losses left behind, space for God and space for His new blessings. In that order.
Etched upon my soul was the awareness that any blessing taking first place will become a liability and increasingly cancerous the longer I allow it.
As years passed, I became so comfortable telling of these early, intense sacrifices that their impact grew distant. Caught up in the frenzy of young motherhood while pioneering a church with a husband working two jobs beside the ministry (a rehearsed list of our too-much-life was ever ready to roll off my tongue), I grew spiritually dull.
Exhaustion can do that to you.
And loneliness is never far away.
At first it seemed like a God-given friendship, reviving dead places inside me, including my buried dance. But with it awakened other aspects of my old life, and I began to pull towards living as the single, untethered woman of my past. I found myself begging others to babysit my little ones so I could escape my responsibilities and live an illusion of freedom.
Innocent times on the surface. Isn’t this kind of self-care young moms are supposed to do? This wasn’t the lesbian relationship kind of my past, so what was the problem?
In reality, there were many warning signs:
1. A nagging sense that it wasn’t right. I wouldn’t find myself arguing with God if we were in agreement, right?
2. A loss of interest in my God-given, primary responsibilities.
3. A rising protest from my husband, my mentor, and closest friends. “Take a good look at your children,” my mentor sternly warned me, “They are the ones paying the price for this!” “It’s been a long time since I heard Jesus come out of your mouth,” another friend cautioned me.
4. A dulling relationship with God, realized late because He was no longer my first priority.
This time the surrender wasn’t voluntary. God put an abrupt end to it and just like that, snapped me back from worshipping the created to worshipping the Creator:
“because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man… Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness,… who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.”
Romans 1:21-25 NKJV
This was my Ishmael (Genesis 16): taking something good, like a friendship, out of its assigned boundaries to satisfy in the flesh what can only be given by the Spirit. The discipline was mercifully strict: All contact to my friend (who, by the way, did nothing wrong here. I was the one responsible for the imbalance) was severed for seven years.
Just like during my first round of pruning, the presence and healing of God flooded into the open wound, and I realized afresh just how awe-inspiring and humbling it is to be embraced by forgiveness by the Holy One. Please, never let me leave this place.
“For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light.” (Psalm 36:9 BSB)
One young sister sincerely grappling with it, describes:
“Just like the men who made idols out of wood and would use half the log to warm themselves and make bread and the other half they’d fashion into an idol and worship it, so too I cut out half of the sexual immorality—the fornication and the masturbation, but I have left the other half as my idol and have clung to it instead of to God. I am feeding on ashes—on my conception of sexual morality rather than God’s. I am once again leaning on my own understanding and not acknowledging Him for Him to light my path. I am not some exception, some special case. I have to follow the rules just like everyone else. Did I even ask Him what he thought about what I was doing or where we decided to draw our sexual line in this relationship? I don’t think I did. I thought I was doing enough, and for a time God was gracious to meet me where I was. But now He is doing a new thing, a deeper thing, a purer thing. And I must submit to it.”
The squeeze between a rock and a hard place is familiar to man, even to the Son of Man. Right after His baptism where His Father’s affection gushed out through an opened heaven, “saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” (Matthew 3:17 NKJV) He was led into severe suffering where every human strength was surrendered.
That’s when His identity was questioned twice, evoking old humiliations from His childhood where everyone knew Joseph wasn’t His daddy, by the slithering innuendo, “If You really are the Son of God…” (Matthew 4:3,6).
It was intended to kick Him below the belt. It was intended to destabilize the already wobbly Man before the Tempter then offered Him the whole world without the Cross (Matthew 4:9).No need to go to extremes. It doesn’t have to be so hard. Did God really say….?
Back to my private conversations with souls distressed by the pressures of costly convictions: Do they really have to?
No, they don’t. We all have free will.
But the consequences of refusing the promptings of the Holy Spirit are incalculable. How do you measure erosion of integrity or calluses of the spirit? In the word of Jesus, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:24-25). And a soul internally divided fragments until it crumbles. No one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).
It’s not that we shouldn’t. It’s that we can’t, any more than we can simultaneously ride two horses galloping in opposite directions. Even if their pace is a slow trot, the result is the same.
To make it jarringly clear, Jesus shows us the inevitable result:
“Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven (Matthew 10:32-33 NKJV).
If something is throbbing inside you right now, take a deep, slow breath, exhale, and repeat till your heart rate is calm. Then honestly assess if there is
1. A nagging sense that it isn’t right? A sense of arguing with God?
2. A loss of interest in your God-given, primary responsibilities?
3. A rising protest from people you know to have your best intent at heart?
4. A dulling relationship with God?
If so, sister, you’re in good company. The path of the Cross is costly, but it is the only way to resurrection. When Jesus had definitively resisted His temptations, angels came and ministered to Him (Matthew 4:11). And they strengthened Him to take the next step and the next.
And He Himself has strengthened me though every single loss and surrender. More than that, fifteen years after the Ishmael friendship, He entrusted me an Isaac, a friend who draws me closer to God, to my family, and to my responsibilities, and who has become an integral part of it who is embraced by all.
A heavenly gift from God, held in the open hands of adoration to the Giver.
You will have your own reward, here and later. Facing the fear and intimidation of loss, it’s human to ask if your sacrifice will be worth it, and Jesus welcomes your question, as He did with Peter:
“Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”
(Matthew 19:27-30 NIV)
“Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion;
instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot;
therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion;
they shall have everlasting joy.”
(Isaiah 61:7 ESV)
Make this your story, my sojourner, and then join me in testifying why Jesus is worth it.
Like weary passengers on a ship after a long, grueling voyage, we can spot the shore of 2021 from here. In the throes of 2020’s shakings, many of us yearn for exit routes as we cast hopes like anchors into the foreign land of the new year.
And now, we glimpse the reality of the harbor we longed for, and it’s time to begin preparations to depart this vessel.
As we go down into the cabin where all the luggage is stored, perhaps we accumulated more along the journey than we can realistically fit into the bags we will personally carry off unto shore — habits, worries, character traits that are better left behind. Some are obvious selections, but others not so much. And even the obvious might be slightly out of sync with reality, but how are we to know?
Let’s take some time before disembarking this year, listening to He who simultaneously captained the ship and, yet, is outside the journey. Outside time, and yet meeting us in it. He who spoke the galaxies into being and still whispers in the most private places of the soul.
Can you hear His invitation, summoning you to a private meeting before we dock?
“Where?” you might ask. Where do you usually go to recalibrate your soul? When you’ve lost your equilibrium, or you feel the rising tension inside you, when you can’t hear your own thoughts in a cacophony of opinions, or when you just need to remember who you are?
Inside you is a compass that points you in the right direction, and most likely it has since you were a child. What did you do then when you were overwhelmed or just had time to do what you loved most?
Since she was a little girl, my best friend has needed to sit at her piano and let her fingers explore the keys until the music she plays is in harmony with the emotions inside her. That’s how she hears God. My husband recharges best in the deep pinewoods of Georgia where, as a boy, he would sit for hours and just listen to nature around him. Others go for a walk, organize everything around them, or call someone to process with verbally.
“Thin places” is a Celtic Christian term for “those rare locales where the distance between heaven and Earth collapses,” as Eric Weiner puts it in his spirituality travelogue, Man Seeks God. But those who have been found by the Christ of the Bible realize that God seeks man everywhere, like He did in the Garden of Eden in the dreadful wreckage of the broken trust when we first began to hide.
“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:8-9)
Here in the last stretch of this year, surveying what to bring forward, where are you? How are you? As you tune into your internal landscape, you are not alone. The same God who formed you in your mother’s womb and gave you your personal propensity for spiritual pleasure, your thin places, is with you right here and now. Would you invite Him to survey your cabin’s content with you, as you ponder what to leave and what to bring forward?
Whether He is familiar to you or this is a foreign step of faith before you leap into the new year, this is a way to help the conversation flow freely between you:
1. Acknowledge His Presence.
We just celebrated Immanuel, God With Us, and yet, it’s so easy to forget just how very present He always is. Simply determine to acknowledge what your deepest core knows is true.
Slowly inhale, hold your breath, praying, “Jesus Christ, You are here,” and then slowly exhale ~ ahhhhhh. Inhale: “You hem me in, ” hold it: “behind and before,” exhale: “and You lay Your hand upon me.” Inhale: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,” hold it: “too lofty for me to attain,” exhale: “Your hand will guide me,Your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:5,6,10)
2. Survey your body.
As you continue slowly breathing, notice any tension anywhere in your body. Feel the healing warmth of Immanuel with you as you release any stress in your jaw, your neck, your shoulders, your back muscles, your stomach, your thighs, your calves, your feet.
If emotions emerge when you no longer clench them so tightly, let them come. You are not alone. This is how you move forward lighter.
“Come to Me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke and put it on you, and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
3. Accept your soul, in whatever state it is.
With the caring comfort you would possess if you listened to your dearest friend, welcome what your soul is trying to tell you.. For now, just write down without judgment or censorship the answers that freely come to mind:
- What unresolved hurts are asking to be resolved?
- What longings are waiting to be validated?
- What old bitterness is overdue to be released by decisive forgiveness?
- What relationships are you grateful for?
- What relationships need a fresh evaluation?
- What worries you right now?
- Where in the body do you feel that?
- How do you generally talk to your own soul?
- What do you think God thinks of you?
4. Invite His Spirit to counsel you.
As you glance over what you have written, ask Him to highlight which of these questions are His top priority for you. Keep breathing slowly. Rest in the assurance that He will show you what you need to see.
“For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:8)
Then write down what you sense Him showing you, and commit to ask an accountability partner for their discernment.
Next, ask yourself, “What is the most important question for you?”
And what is His counsel for that?
5. Thank Him for His commitment to always support and sustain you.
You will never have to solve one single problem without His help. You will never have to go through one single moment without Him.
Maybe there were days we forgot that onboard the stormy sailing of 2020, but we can throw that ingratitude overboard and deliberately pack a thankful attitude, a settled belief that He keeps His promises, come what may.
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15)
Your body, soul, and spirit are soaking in His Presence. This is one of your “thin places” where heaven and earth embrace. Might I suggest you make it a refuge you often return to for shelter from the temporal storms that are sure to still find us in what lies ahead, to be strengthened by the everlasting arms that hold you always?
As we glide so close to 2021 that we can see plans begin to take form in our calendars, perhaps it seems less foreign than we expected. Perhaps we will even be tempted to think nothing has changed or to invest our confidence in the tangible changes we do see. But we can hold something much more constant in our chest: The unwavering goodness of God calling us to commune with Him in private thin places every day.
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Since we are in this together, I would love to hear what He shows you. When we walk off the gangway at midnight, not only will we be aware that He is with us, but we can be sojourners together in the new land.
No platitudes satisfy after a storm
No Hallmark cards for devastation
No words truly hold a heart freshly torn
It all feels like empty placation
But there is the presence of someone we love
Hope and healing flow from their touch
Their faith brings relief from the olive branch Dove
Through them darkness begins to be crushed
And there is a safe Presence closer still
Another’s breath in my lungs when alone
His voice is the only thing that is real
Speaking health into broken bones.
His is the kindness in every good friend
His the generous touch of compassion
In Him, no soul is too shattered to mend
In Him, tenderness is not rationed.
No words can give you the substance of this
But they can lead you towards Him
Yours is the choice to receive His kiss
When faith seems like a risky whim.
No platitudes satisfy after a storm
But there is the weight of decision
Comfort is aching for those who mourn
To welcome His healing provision.
Here we are, in the month dedicated to giving thanks, in a year determined to shake the whole world. How do we straddle both?
It’s an honest question.
Would you ponder it with me?
Then let’s mount the back of the Eagle whose bird eye perspective is not of this world. Wrap your arms around His neck, feel the warmth of His strong presence under you, and let’s begin the ascent. I’m right next to you, looking over His other shoulder.
“You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.” – Exodus 19:4
As we soar above our daily lives, the hustle and bustle below quickly becomes smaller and more distant, until gravity loosens its grip on us, and time becomes a continent we glide over effortlessly.
Can you feel the fresher air already? Can you feel your soul breathing freer as we drift on the outer wind bands of eternity?
He pauses over New Year’s Eve, 2019. Remember where you were? He descends close enough that we can hear our own declarations for 2020, both the visions we shared with our loved ones and the private prayers we whispered as we closed our eyes at the dawn of this year.
I watch my own tired face with residue of the night’s makeup still smeared around my eyes, drowsily confessing that in the year that just slipped away, I hurried too much and listened too little…. What were your hopes, regrets, prayers that night? Did you have a resolution?
“Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
That hovers over its young,
He spread His wings and caught them,
He carried them on His pinions.
– Deuteronomy 32:11
One small, internal move of His, as I recognize a week later the books that became His initial answer to my dazed prayer: The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer and Get Your Life Back by John Eldridge. Books and writing — these two in tandem has always been how He carried me through shifting seasons confusing reasons; it’s how He taught me to hear His voice.
As we slowly sail the sky over January and February, what did He carry you through? From this vantage point, how do you see His goodness tending to your soul these months? If tears rise up and close your throat, let them loose. If hurts and questions and unresolved issues begin to bang against your rib cage, let them out. It’s time. Remember where you are, right here in His safe presence.
“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun,
Who rides the heavens to help you,
And in His excellency on the clouds.
The eternal God is your refuge,
And underneath are the everlasting arms”
– Deuteronomy 33:26-27a
Approaching March, we rise again to higher altitude. We see the dark virus roll like a fog over the whole world, driving people home like the ancient plagues in Egypt. Fear and financial ruin accompany this pestilence, and conflicting news competes with its feverish paralysis for our breath.
But this elevation shows us something wonderful budding through the hazy nightmare. Oceans teeming again with healthy life, vegetation fragrantly vibrant as pollution is halted, and sounds of silence and nature singing without the bullying noise of civilization.
Families pressing in to overcome the initial shock of our new reality are forced to spend time together, discovering restorative rhythms of being with and belonging to each other they barely knew they had missed. A sacred Sabbath settles over the whole groaning earth, ironically inducing deeper breaths for the many who remain healthy, even as the vicious virus strangles its victims.
Good and evil grabble for our very life. Like street vendors, eternal and temporary risks and rewards cry out for our attention, but there is a hush in the heart that belongs to us. He who gave us the weight of freedom to choose now gives us a moment to meditate on what matters most.
This is not paradise. It’s just a pregnant pause.
Let’s both inhale slowly and exhale deeply while we hover over the stillness of the quarantine. Just drink in the sight of LA without pollution and dolphins playing closer to shore, unafraid and undisturbed, one more time. Without minimizing the bitter losses, let’s savor even deeper the goodness of God as He reveals it to us.
Can you feel the sorrow in His chest, though?
Advancing towards the months where blood spilt in the street and once again, and human breath was suffocated by evil, we feel the rising uproar before we hear it. Agonies deeper than words swelling in black and blue communities clash in a desperate clamoring to be heard, to be understood, to be justified.
Even from here, high above the fray, we hear the blood calling out.
“And He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.” – Genesis 4:10-11
Can anything good come from this, we both ask, and again, there’s the sense of choice:We can train our eyes on all the unresolved evil, or we can see the goodness of God even here. Please, we need hope to illuminate our souls, so He opens our eyes to new conversations born from these deaths. We see stones of accusation dropped and the hands that clutched them now bringing meals to former enemies.
Remember where you saw reconciliation?
Moving towards the second half of the year, everything speeds up. The word reopens and grasps for what was before. What else is it supposed to do? We hear the music of the merry-go-round spin into dissonance as faster and faster the globe spirals into the pace of the curse, drinking the toxic cocktail of pestilence, politics, and pessimism.
Even up here, our hearts are pounding, and our minds whirling as the inevitable outcome is impossible to ignore.
Do you regret coming with me here?
Do you think I forgot that the invitation centered on giving thanks?
I don’t blame you; this is hard! And I’m not God; that’s why we together take this ride on His unshakable Word, so we can glance beyond the horizon of time and anchor our hearts in certain goodness on the other side.
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” – 2 Peter 3:10, 13
With this bird’s-eye view of the year, it’s easier for me to focus less on the painful stitches that defined certain days, weeks, and months. They’re still there, of course, but I can see them within the tapestry of sanctification — of becoming more like our Savior. In my own life, that means:
This was the year He shattered my illusion of control and replaced it with deeper rest.
This was the year He opened my eyes to some blindspots that brought me much-needed humility.
This was the year that taught me not to take tomorrow for granted, so I am more present today.
Meanwhile, I’m so grateful for the colorful, caring people I call mine, each individual leaning into the pursuit of righteous goodness in their own way. Wells in the desert, homes for the orphans, food for the hungry, peace offered to prisoners — these are some of the tangible expressions of our gratitude to our Savior who despises any and all shame to come find the broken in the rubble of this world, so He can lift us out of it in time.
Swept up in the redemption chorus that breaks earth’s chains with heaven’s Hallelujah, we hear His melodies clearer as the Day draws closer. And until that day arrives, Jesus is still near to us today. Any time you’d like another ride above the murky mire here, just wait for Him in His Word, and He will come. He will find you right where you are, because
“…those who wait on the LORD
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.”
– Isaiah 40:31
Maybe it’s your spouse. Maybe your lifelong friend. Or your parent or your child, your coworker, your boss — but there’s this one area where you find yourself trapped in a loop of unresolved tension…
It happens again. Somewhere mid-conversation, we realize that we are stuck in that familiar pattern we both loathe. We love each other, but we hate this well-rehearsed script. Sucked into a quagmire of old wounds and new failed attempts at breaking this spell, we reach for each other with one hand while the other keeps slapping and clawing like an agent independent from our will.
Down we both go till the harsh landing in our separate corners. Disoriented, we begin to grasp for understanding. What just happened? Again.
In my part of the equation, accumulated voices from books and blogs and research and friends one by one take the witness stand of my mind and speak their wisdom. Internally, I’m impetuously rushing towards resolution, somehow trying to set the pace of the process like an audiobook on double speed.
But that, too, is a familiar pattern that has never brought the desired outcome.
Genesis 32: 24-26
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
– Is that You, God, wrestling me through this knotted-up situation?
– Is Your intention to injure me so that I may injure others less?
– Do You want me to fight with as much tenacity as Jacob did, or to just wave the white flag in surrender?
It’s not like I hear an audible voice, but something inside begins to dislodge. It was that hidden something that has taken up residence in my body — an unresolved feeling of abandonment, a sense of rejection I’ve internalized. Whenever these types of tension arise, they’re usually tied to a deeper ache.
I can’t always see it, but God can.
The weight of His presence presses in on my own understanding, and a shivering reverence reveals that this is of far greater importance to Him than I had grasped. Neither of the hurting hearts in this precious relationship is pure — and neither intentionally unkind.
We are dust grappling with the divine.
While it’s true that “To err is human; to forgive, divine,” (Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, Part II , 1711), more than forgiveness is needed here.
Krista Bugden’s article about muscle adhesions, which was published on Sidekick, enlightens:
“Over time, repeatedly bad posture can create adhesions. The muscles and related tissues are placed under stress time and time again. … In turn, this stress can create micro-tears in the muscles. Your body fixes them by laying down scar tissue. Scar tissue is strong and supportive. It’s a natural part of our body’s healing process. Yet, it may leave you stuck with a giant knot in your back or shoulder that you just can’t shake. And ultimately, it leads to more pain.”
He, who created the visible realm to illustrate the invisible reality, now shows me my emotional scar tissue that limits my relational range of motion. Without the agony of this sore situation, I might not have been open to the surgery of first facing the mirror-tears of my own pride and control, and then willingly welcoming His wrestling grip.
Pain is a phenomenal motivator.
Deeper still, affection for the other bleeds an authentic desire to do whatever it takes to restore our fractured oneness.
Deepest, though, is the wise design of God, who uses our closest encounters to free us from ourselves and with surgeon precision cut off what hinders His image in our souls from full mobility.
In Biblical Hebrew, only the first sound of the word distinguishes “wrestle” from “embrace.” I first learned this from Beth Moore at IFLead 2020, and the realization is continually taking root in me and sprouting a whole new awareness. According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, “wrestle” (#79. אָבַק) is “abaq.” On the other hand, “embrace” (#2263) is“chabaq.”
When our grabbling for understanding from each other becomes an endeavor with our Creator to tackle those blindspots that repeatedly trip us up, not only do we then desire to walk back to the situation with a posture to embrace; we walk back with the humility it requires.
Hidden in old injuries are shadow names of failure, rejection, and shame. These are what shout at each other in these deadlocked patterns – until…
Genesis 32: 24-26
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be _________ (fill in your own blank), but “Triumphant with God”, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”(Translation by James P. Boyd, Bible Dictionary, Ottenheimer Publishers, 1958.)
We will grapple again, my loved ones and I, and then God and I. But each time, we detangle a bit better from each other and return a tad sooner and more eagerly to the wrestling mat with God.
Though I always dread the limping at first, I’m learning that it sweetens and strengthens the embrace.
“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun,
Who rides the heavens to help you,
And in His excellency on the clouds.
The eternal God is your refuge,
And underneath are the everlasting arms;
[title Wrestling into Embrace]
[category Come Fill the Gap]
[tags Genesis 32, Deuteronomy 33, conflict, resolution, blindspots, peacemaking, forgiveness, soul care, inner healing, wrestling, embrace, Beth Moore]
Empty-handed I come to these healing waters. It’s been a long, strenuous journey. At first, familiar adrenaline energized my gait and disguised the exhaustion, but gradually, the pace began to sag till I arrived here in a slump.
Like oil leaks from a degraded engine, behind me puddles of caffeine-induced stamina mixed with discharges of drained compassion and a diminished capacity to listen leave a trail.
According to Golden Eagle, a company that specializes in producing car maintenance products, oil links in cars are a tricky business:
“A leak of any kind should be addressed immediately, but an engine oil leak even more so. Knowing what causes engine oil leaks will help you know where to look and how to start fixing it yourself. Don’t ignore it, or hope it fixes itself.“
Perhaps I have been ignoring it, hoping it would fix itself. The engine light signaling exhaustion has been blinking for a while:
- Sensations of ants crawling under my skin when I go to bed
- Throbbing headaches in the middle of the day
- Disproportionately jolting by every notification on my phone
- Anxiety over the too-packed calendar
Golden Oil exhorts us:
“Be proactive. Protect and preserve your vehicle’s performance so you can keep it on the road where it’s meant to be.” Yet it isn’t proaction on my part, but the sheer act of protective mercy of God, that pulls this vehicle off the road for a while.
I had heard His call to rest, but didn’t know how to heed it. For every margin I tried to establish, a dam broke somewhere else. I couldn’t take this Sabbath by force, so it was handed to me as a gift ― the way water to a parched marathon runner is a gift.
I don’t take it for granted.
I close my eyes and shut down all other senses while the life-restoring liquid slowly enters my internal desert. It’s hard to temper my breaths and pace the gulps, but I try to be present and just receive one drop at a time.
Gradually the overheated fumes cool down and the fog begins to clear.
And then He comes to me, the One my soul loves and has learned to recognize among a thousand voices. Though still on wobbly feet, I fall into cadence with Him as we begin to walk along the water’s edge.
He gives me space for the stream-of-consciousness questions that now spill out unedited and unashamed:
- Why is it so hard for me to know when to say yes or no?
- Why am I always torn between the principles of balance and the call to sacrifice?
- What do we do when the needs continually overwhelm the resources?
Like hot tears, my frustrating dilemmas keep pouring out till their reservoir is drained. It’s a good emptying. Peace fills their place as we keep strolling wordlessly.
I feel like a child who has thrown a million puzzle pieces on the floor and now expects the adult to begin making sense of them.
It’s okay that He takes His time.
I’m not rushed inside anymore.
“I know it’s a lot,” He then says, adding, “In fact, it’s impossible for you. So I’m glad you came here. Let’s go off to a quiet place and rest awhile.”
When He shows me the place where I can lie down, I don’t resist. Inside His peace I feel even more just how tired I am. My head, my eyes, my legs; everything is so heavy.
I feel the shifting shadows and lights as hours and days pass over my sleep. A lighter air awaits me when I wake up, and He is still there.
Stroking my hair while I lay with my eyes closed, He gently explains,
“You will always have more needs around you than you can satisfy. You will always be torn between your own thirsts and those of others. That’s what keeps you so dependent on Me.
But I will teach you the unforced rhythms of grace. I will teach you to recognize the seasons of your soul. There’s a time to be flexible and a time to be firm, a time to give and a time to receive. This is where your leak is.”
And I realize that I have reversed the appropriate reactions to my engine lights. When I should have slowed down, instead I sped up, attempting to attend faster, and therefore more rushed, to the increasing cries for help.
But I can’t ignore them, though, right?
“No, but you can entrust them to Me. You are limited; I am not. Every human resource will run dry; that’s how I designed it to protect you from looking to each other for what only I can give.”
As Priscila Shirer states on page 69 in her book, Breathe, which talks about making space for Sabbath in your life:
“Believing that doing less can somehow produce more requires resilient faith. It takes an unshakable, concrete trust in God ― the kind that won’t topple in even an earthquake of doubt ― to maintain the confidence that allows you to stop, even when everything in you and around you says keep going. Keep pushing. Keep persisting.”
Compassion fatigue is so common in ministry, so accepted as a necessary battle scar. I can diagnose it in others and help coach toward gentler ways while somehow missing its flashing warnings in myself.
Listening to these healing waves’ faithful rhythm in tireless tides that approach and retract, back and forth, accepting the continual dance, I realize that my own rhythms of grace will be found in similar fluid motions.
Beth Moore affirms this in her Instagram story on September 19, 2020:
“Until we see Jesus face-to-face, our journeys won’t be straight lines nearly as often as they will be a series of loops rolling us forward by circling us back to faith.”
So we go back to our daily lives with our hands full of His gifts, only to return back to His ocean at a later moment to have them filled again. To my surprise, He dips His hands in the ocean and playfully splashes its salty drops on my face before He pulls me into His arms, laughing. Childlike.
“I’ll be with you, remember! Every day, every moment. Yes, you will need to mature in cultivating the principles that nourish your soul, for they are life to you. But when you lose your balance, when you hit rocky ground, I will be here to catch you. This is not a test to trip you up! This is the grand adventure you were made for!“
On her childhood playground she watches the other children play. An impenetrable wall separates her from them, but she doesn’t know why. In her eyes they are one huddled organism, an exoskeleton with its armored back against her.
On the other side is a warm embrace she can’t enter, a wonderful welcome not extended to her. They are in.
She is out.
And she doesn’t notice the dark presence slithering up to her, coiling his hopelessness around her soul, infecting her every experience with nightmarish undertones.
Later they burn her clothes with cigarettes and her soul with sarcasm and she wears that charred brand, her scarlet letter read and understood by all.
E for excluded
As the years go by, she masters the optic illusion of painting achievements and accolades at just the right angles to cover the mark, and sometimes people don’t seem to notice it at all.
But she can always smell the singed flesh, even after trying to conceal it with perfume and an air of unapproachability. And always, always her eyes scan the room for that monster of exclusion, thinking him to be out there.
But he is in here, choking her under her skin, making sure she interprets every circumstance through that strangled feeling of rejection: people going to lunches and dinners without her, sharing inside jokes and vacation plans while she watches alone. So when they do invite her, she knows better than trusting it. She is nobody’s pity project.
She holds her head high, wears her rehearsed smile, waves and leaves before the tears of the little girl inside betray her carefully cultivated image.
But lately the gap between her public persona and her private pain has darkened and deepened. It’s a chasm one might trip into and never reach the bottom. From its caverns, her tormentor’s voice taunts her with increasing volume and venom and her head is exploding. Her mask is cracking. STOP!
She doesn’t cry for help. Who would care? Who would come?
And her dark captor almost wins.
One barely whispered prayer of fading hope…
How long have I been in the quiet place? Where is my constant companion, that vicious voice? Who managed to shut him up?
And the light isn’t harsh; it’s gentle. Am I dead? Is this heaven?
This must be peace? It feels like a soothing blanket inside. No tremors. No anxiety. All the oxygen my lungs desire.
Just to be sure, I gulp in some gigantic breaths and still, there’s no strain. There is enough air for me.
It’s not just absence of pain.
It’s a presence of something I’ve never felt before. It feels good.
And that’s when I grasp it: one alliance has replaced another.
I was never alone.
There is no neutral ground.
Somehow I know this is holy ground and somehow I know I am home.
But I am still in the land of the living.
I breathe in this fresh free air for a while.
And then I turn my head towards Him.
His golden eyes caressing me, He has patiently waited for me to look at Him. All my automatic defense mechanism rush to mobilize and then they pause; I don’t need them anymore. I am safe here.
Safe. That’s what this is.
His hand slowly moves to caress my hair, His eyes asking permission. He will not cross any lines without my consent. I’ve never seen that before.
And then the dam breaks; like lava from all those years of stuffing it down, my heart erupts in cries and questions and shame and anger. One hot stream of purging pain carrying wails and sobs as it leaves my soul.
When it subsides, again I just recognize with wide-eyed wonder that I still feel safe. Whole.
He pulls my head to His chest and tenderly brushes my tears away with His knuckles… and then I hear His voice for the first time, yet somehow my innermost being already knows it from before I was born.
“You were never alone, you know. Even in those nights that broke you. Even in those days that froze you, I was right there with you. There are balances of eternal principles you cannot yet understand, reasons why I must not step in and prevent every violation. But it broke My heart more than you know. And I held you through it, My daughter, and I sang over you and I never let go.
I flung your evil subjugator far from you, but you will need to resist him by your own choice. When he slithers up to you again with his poison of self pity,
When he tries to turn your back against love in isolation,
When you feel his hot breath pushing you away from Me,
It is yours to resolve whom you will obey.
And once you have chosen, I will move heaven and earth to assist you and teach you how to live in this new Life I am offering.
Even when you can’t see Me I am here.
I adore you. I want you to thrive as My daughter. But I will never take your choice away from you.”
And I sigh like a baby who has cried for too long.
“Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
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.
Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.
Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful!
God, I’ll never comprehend them!
I couldn’t even begin to count them—
any more than I could count the sand of the sea.
Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you!”
(Psalm 139: 7 – 18 The Message)
I am safe.
I exercise just enough to satisfy my doctor at my yearly visits. But when I do, I prefer a ballet barre, because I’ve always loved a good plié. When I focus on leaning into it with the right technique, something inside me shifts.
I find an internal balance.
But it’s more than than that. It’s what I’ve always done, long before my parents gave me the gift of my first dance class.
So when my 54 year-old self flips a chair around in our somewhat over-furnished living room, it becomes a barre, and I remember who I am.
Even after decades of not dancing, my body follows well familiar paths, like coming home after a long trip.
“Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls.”
- Jeremiah 6:16
Lately current events have taken me back to another old path where my soul finds rest:
Training for courage.
I don’t understand enough about genetic memory to expound on it beyond my personal experience, but before my father ever told me of his experiences as a child in the camps after World War II, I had already been thinking like a refugee.
“The bathroom would be the best place to hide,” my 9 year old reason concluded, “when they come for us, there will be running water in the bathroom.”
Obsessively reading everything I could about surviving in a hostile environment shaped my childhood mind.
As a young pastor’s wife in South Beach with two wonderfully rambunctious toddlers, I forgot for a season what I had learned. Bombarded with expectations about the American Dream version of the Christian life, I lost perspective. I lost contentment. I lost myself.
In that season I measured my husband, who was a bi-vocational missionary church-planter, by what he did for me and the children. I was afraid the kids would one day hate the church because it took so much of their daddy’s time. We’ve all heard about those pastors’ kids…
But then someone sent me a magazine from Voice of the Martyrs, and just like my muscles embraced the familiar ballet movements, my soul embraced the visceral reality of following Jesus when it’s costly.
Throughout time and geography, normal Christian life has been one of persecution.
Rather than worship festivals and family retreats, suffering has been the expectation.
And what we expect determines how we think, feel, and act.
In the company of widows whose husbands were tortured and killed for the Gospel, my petty grievances evaporated. Their children expect to pay the ultimate price because that is the path of the Cross.
The ancient path, the good path, where we find rest for our souls.
“For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered …”
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14
It doesn’t take a prophet to see that we, globally, are headed into hardship.
We are bracing for a storm.
But we were made for this.
For me, the physical grounding at the barre and the mental armor of accepting the cost of the Cross clarify my space on the ancient path, the Narrow Way.
As I now revive my blog to be a voice in the current conversation, I realize how much this scarlet thread runs through it.
And you have your own.
What has given you joy and strength throughout your life?
What has inspired you?
How does your ancient path lead you to find rest for your soul today?
If you’ve forgotten, ask God and He will lead you there again.
Please comment, so we can strengthen each other all the more as the Day draws closer.