I came down the stairs and I could hear the blood pumping in my ears. Frustration was squeezing my chest and tiredness had wrung every last drop of energy from my soul. Precisely because I’m not much of a crier, I can feel the exact moment I know my body is caving into emotion. I sat at the dining room table, crossed my legs on the pub height chair and bit my lip.
It was after 10pm and I was putting out fire #9879 of the day and on the verge of faltering behind the chicken line.
I looked down at my phone. I took a deep breath, wrote a quick reply “Yes I am planning to be there”. Then the moment came. Hot tears pooled in the corners of my eyes and I knew I had a choice to make. I could either become ball of nerves and worrying throughout the night or I could open up. David sat not far away, working on something on his computer. I took a deep breath and forced my mouth to form the kind of words that are hard for parents to say.
Being a stay at home parent, days are just days. I don’t have the Monday blues because I’m not heading back to work after a weekend of sleeping in and Fridays aren’t necessarily TGIF Fridays because for me, Friday and Saturday are usually quite similar. But if ever there had been a Monday that felt like a MONDAY, it was that one. From start to finish everyone was grumpy, arguments filled the air, there was more crying than talking, and in the two hours before bedtime I had spanked all the kids and in the two hours after that it had taken for everyone to finally go to sleep, I had repeated it all one more time.
I was rubbed too raw to even complain about the near-constant fighting… I was rubbed raw by the realization that the whole day came down to one age old question: what came first: the chicken or the egg? Only in this case I was the chicken with the soured attitude and you can guess who the five little eggs were with the five bad attitudes. That thought was only bouncing around in my heart for a split second before I implicitly knew the answer: It was the chicken.
That was the basis for David and I’s conversation that evening as I confessed my prideful heart to him. We talked about chickens and eggs, me and the kids, and a lot of other stuff that is so personal you can only really tell your spouse (because they’re stuck with you *wink*). I chuckled, “Dang it! I really wanted to have all of my crap together before my SOZO!” I only half joked. I attempted a laugh at my own expense, but if I am to be honest, I felt very, very broken sitting at the table across from my husband that evening.
I had reached the end of me. We all know there are limitations to our abilities, time, inner oomph but when we are trotted along and then realize there’s a measuring stick on the ground and our toes have lined up with the final inch of what we have to give, that information can be utterly devastating. Truth be told, I’d been standing on that final inch of me since the beginning of May, flailing like an uncoordinated tight rope walker, willing myself to not fall and then when all else failed, hanging on for dear life. Monday night I could feel the sweat dripping from my hands and I knew time was not on my side. Something had to give.
Even before David responded I knew I would get up in the morning and go to the appointment. I didn’t have any of my “crap” together but I also was running out of options. Painful as it was, I had exposed my flaws and weaknesses to him, telling him the depths of what was going on inside me. When I had nothing else to admit (it was a long list), he smiled. “I am just happy because it is so obvious that you are about to get free from it all,” he said, taking my hand.
**(I want to digress for a mere sentence or two to make a public service announcement: LADIES, MARRY A MAN OF CHARACTER! There is nothing like experiencing that can’t-help-but-be-full-of-hope kind of love when you are found to be severely lacking. )**
I did get some sleep after all and thank goodness because Tuesday morning threw punches at me from the get-go. I got all the kids up, fed, dressed and packed to go to my mom’s without a moment to spare only to have to take a sizable detour on the country roads around her house due to road work. I hate being late. I beat myself up a little for not leaving sooner.
I listened to a podcast on the way to the church to drown out two thoughts that were pestering me. It helped to shift my attention to thoughts outside of my own head. I waited in the sanctuary only a moment and then two ladies from the church, both of whom I recognized and one whose name I knew, came to get me. They were relaxed and friendly and still I was battling the urge to run or cry or both. Cindy asked, “how are you doing?” “I’m nervous,” I admitted. I couldn’t even pretend to be otherwise. I tried my whole self depricating “I wanted to have my crap together” line but it fell flat while still on my lips. Those two taunting thoughts came back to me. What if something needs to be cast out of you? And the second intruding thought was actually more sinister, although it might not appear to be at face value… God is going to tell on you. I had this movie in my mind playing on repeat. I’d participate in this amazing inner healing ministry, only to have God tell my business to this two women I wanted to like me so that I could be properly scolded for my shortcomings as a mom. I would be humiliated and whipped back into shape. I deserve it, I thought.
Now, I’m telling you these thoughts plainly but that morning I hadn’t spoken them out loud and so they had become monsters hiding in the closet of my thoughts, preparing to jump out at me from under the bed of my rest, tapping on the windows of my heart sounding much larger and more real than ever.
I wanted to puke.
When I was invited to close my eyes, I did eagerly. I was happy to exist behind lids spidered with blue and red veins that quickly blurred into a dark, fuzzy gray. I was as alone as I could get in a room with two near strangers and full to the brim with Holy Spirit. A calm came. Tears were not far behind.
When I opened my eyes almost three hours later, I would’ve sworn only 45 minutes had passed. I walked out of the room, aware of a lightness in my heart and in my body that I couldn’t have denied if I wanted to. I know there are likely a whole host of manipulative places/people who have cast a shadow on the kind of ministry I received that day while sitting Indian style, shoeless, on a deep couch in a church classroom. Where there is a counterfeit, you can be sure there the real deal isn’t too far off. I got the real deal and ten days later I’m still discovering just how good it was.
Time was not measuring the moments in that room to the degree that it almost ceased to exist. As Cheryl prompted me to ask questions of Father God, Jesus and Holy Spirit, the kind of answers I never would’ve given rushed into my hearing and dripped effortlessly from my mouth. Pictures and stories were painted in my heart and almost before I could ask what they meant, a deep knowing would bubble up into my awareness.
I don’t know about any of you but I feel like I do hear from God. More and more I’m learning to tap into His movement around me, but still its not uncommon for the answers to come slowly. Many times I end up playing like a cat, batting around thoughts, uncertain if they are mine or His. But this was not like that. The whole time the rhythm was unbroken… even, unlabored, natural…. question, answer, question, answer, question, answer. The proof is in the pudding, folks, and regardless of what the questions or answers had been, there was no denying the atmosphere had been transformed into a conduit for just such a supernatural encounter.
In the same way some marital conversations get filed in a “spouses only” category, some encounters with God are too precious and personal for mass consumption. In my everyday life, I am still sorting out what to share with whom and how to even do that. That’s the main reason it has taken me almost two weeks to start to chronicle what happened (The other reason is that I have five kids! ) I do want to share what I can with you, though, in hopes that you are encouraged to not fear close encounters with God in your own life.
In the spirit of not fearing, can I just share with you the very first thing I heard God say to me? Given the state I was in and the unspoken belief I had that He was just waiting to publicly chastise me, His words were particularly poignant:
God, what is the truth about who you are? “I am gentle and humble of heart.”
And as I attempt to share a few of these pictures and words with you, I hope you will keep that comfort close. He is gentle and humble and He was particularly tender with me that morning, proving those nagging fears about Him were impossibly ignorant as religious perceptions tend to be.
Faced with all that I lack and the greatness of my needs as a parent and wife, it was surprising to see just how many cumbersome burdens I was clinging to, my knuckles white with effort. One by one, He asked me to give them to Him and one by one He offered me an unmerited exchange:
friendship with Jesus instead of fear
real relationships instead of self protection
love and affection instead of inward focus
a real self to like instead of performance
JOY instead of control (He had offered me that one three times before, but I didn’t know how to take it)
security and power instead of unbelief
In the middle of the session, the ladies had begun to pray for me and one of them prayed about my skin. Specifically, she asked that every cell in my body would open up to receive God’s grace and that I would be able to give and receive affection. I saw in my mind flowers blooming, opening, stretching their petals toward the warmth of the sun and I knew her words had landed on something real.
I hadn’t mentioned to either of them (or to anyone other than David, my mom and my counselor) that touch was a big challenge for me. If you are a parent or work with young kids, then you know adults become a cross between a jungle gym and a napkin for little ones during the day. All day long, every day I have kids on me. I’ve never been a super touchy person but after coming through some trauma in adulthood, I had become almost unable to bear the constant contact the kids demanded. I was all too aware of my own wincing and retracting from hugs and pleas for snuggles. It was painful.
The morning of the appointment, Cohen and Kacey had gotten up early so I read to them on the couch. They were sitting on either side of me, both rubbing their sleepy faces on my bare arms. I took it as long as I could (not long) and then moved myself to “show them the pictures better”. In my awareness of this issue, the Accuser had tried to whisper in my ear that I was a terrible mom, that my kids were not being well loved, and that they would grow up and remember me as a cold. It was gutting to have those words between my ears for weeks. I felt like a failure. So Cindy and Cheryl’s prayers, uttered from the lips of those who didn’t know my struggle, echoed the gentleness of God toward me. He didn’t shame me for not being able to take little faces snuggled up next to me. He prompted prayers for the retraction to become a blossoming.
Near the end of the time, I saw a page from a notebook tacked to a wall. Written in all caps across the blue lined paper was one word “IMMATURE”. I almost didn’t share that thought with the women who had fought alongside me all morning.
That word had come up during David and I’s conversation the night before too. I had really been struggling with anger. Since May, it had been ramping up and waves of it would occasionally pour over me until I was gulping for air and sanity. I kept asking “what am I mad about?” Everyone wanted to tell me that we just have a lot on our plate (and we do) but I knew that I hadn’t followed the growth down deep enough for that to be the root. In the middle of telling David a whole bunch of stuff, it came to me. I was mad- furiously mad- at myself for being immature.
I was one of those kids and teenagers that adults labeled “mature”. We were raised to be respectful and a lot of different kinds of people with all kinds of life experiences had lived with us throughout my childhood so my siblings and I had a leg up in terms of life perspectives. Adults called that maturity. I had felt ahead of the game until I went through a difficult marriage and divorce and custody battle. Those years from 24 to 29 are, for most, a time when the rubber meets the road resulting in growth in character and maturity. You work a real job. You learn how to fight in a healthy marriage. You negotiate holidays. You become the proud owner of a mortgage. You build community. You have kids. etc. Doing those kinds of things helps grow us up. I had gotten married, owned a house, and had a baby but all in the context of turmoil. Life was swirling around me like a tornado and I was just trying to survive it. Ask any lifeguard and they will tell you: a drowning person would claw his/her own mom under the water save him/herself. Trauma necessarily makes us self focused. Without assigning any blame or pointing any fingers, those years were exhaustingly traumatic for me. I emerged from them, water logged, off balance and fiercely and defiantly self protective. I hadn’t done the work of maturing and growing. My “leg up” was the only thing keeping me from being grossly behind the pack.
The shame of being immature emotionally and interpersonally in your 30′s is weighty. I wanted to keep the shame and my deficits under wrap and I was angry every single time life pulled the curtain back to show just how short I was coming up. Having five kids to care for was daily exposing my selfishness, my pride, my lack of emotional stamina, my need for insight… and I was furious! Furious at them for uncovering the nakedness of my need and furious at myself for having gotten stuck being a 24 year old in a 33 year old body with a life that required a minimum of 33 year old self control.
So there was that note tacked to the wall. I could see it. The bottom right corner was curled up but I could read the print. I spoke it out loud and before another word could be uttered, I saw the ground beneath me as if I were sitting atop a horse going full speed ahead. I saw the front legs in unison pounding the ground, dust stirred until the legs were a blur. The amount of ground covered was so surprising I didn’t look up at all. Then it hit me… a lot of ground was being taken, quickly.
I wept, the kindness of God bowling me over again.
The last picture I had was of an ancient city with these walls that were in sections and on wheels. The wall partitions were all simultaneously rolling away from the city. Inside the city was a dormant volcano. There was no rumbling, no heat, no warmth of color to any of the ash around it. The rock left behind from eruptions of the past was black and cool to the touch. I was walking around barefoot, though, tiptoeing lightly as if the volcano was a sleeping monster I didn’t dare wake.
After so many incredible revelations and kind words, I felt sadness at finding this scene still inside me. As prompted, I asked Jesus what He wanted to do with the volcano. No one rewinds movies anymore, but if you remember doing that you’ll understand what I saw. It was as if the erupting of the volcano was happening in reverse. The ash and hardened lava rock rolled up backward into the volcano and it imploded, collapsing in on itself, leveled to the ground with only a muffled, far away sound. Where the volcano had stood, a small spring of water shot up and a still pool formed, glasslike and reflecting the sky. “I will lead you beside still waters.”
Sadness evaporated leaving the lightness of joy behind; beauty for ashes; oil of gladness for a spirit of heaviness.
It wasn’t until a couple of days later while processing with my counselor that I understood what happened on my drive from Powell to Bellefontaine later that day. Remember how I had been comforted to hide behind my eyelids? The darkness felt warm and secure. But when I opened my eyes hours later, I had this strange feeling in my actual, physical eyes. I wondered if it was possibly brighter outside? But it wasn’t very sunny day… I checked my eyes in the mirror before putting the van into gear. Were my pupils dilated? I checked four more times in 30 minutes. Were my eyes opened wider?
I knew the physical experience of more light in my eyes was connected beyond the whole light/dark types in the Bible but wasn’t sure how. Brenda, my faithful counselor, caught it. “Didn’t you say they prayed that every cell in your body would open up? Isn’t it possible that the cells of your eyes were doing just that?” BINGO. As soon as she said it, I knew she had given language the new experience I hadn’t been able to adequately describe.
Later that day I wrestled with my kids on the floor for almost two hours. I almost wanted to stop and pinch myself. I was enjoying it! At one point I had Adler on one leg airplane style, Scout on the other, Harper crawling back and forth over my neck and head while I tickled the bigs and I was… giggling. I wasn’t bearing it with gritted teething, counting the seconds and hating myself for it, I was truly enjoying them, touches and all.
There’s still a ton to process and I’m repeating those exchanges to myself daily. They’re written on notecards so I can tell myself the truth. I know I’ve got more ground to cover, more healing to experience, much much to learn about how to let Jesus’ life flow through me but it would be impossible to exaggerate the gravity of what happened during my SOZO (greek word meaning saved, healed and delivered). I hope that encourages you, friends.
Let this passage from Psalm 18 wash over your heart:
28 For You cause my lamp to be lighted and to shine; the Lord my God illumines my darkness.
29 For by You I can run through a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.
30 As for God, His way is perfect! The word of the Lord is tested and tried; He is a shield to all those who take refuge and put their trust in Him.
31 For who is God except the Lord? Or who is the Rock save our God,
32 The God who girds me with strength and makes my way perfect?
33 He makes my feet like hinds’ feet [able to stand firmly or make progress on the dangerous heights of testing and trouble]; He sets me securely upon my high places.
34 He teaches my hands to war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
35 You have also given me the shield of Your salvation, and Your right hand has held me up; Your gentleness and condescension have made me great.