Even after all these years, it never ceases to amaze me when – at just the right moment – I stumble upon the EXACT thing I need to read or hear.
That happened to me earlier today when I opened a little devotional booklet that I like to read in the mornings, and read these words:
“I AM trusting God with the desires of my heart. He knows what’s best for my life, and I give Him complete control over all I am and all I have. Any worry, fear or frustration, I turn over to Him. I’m at peace knowing that He will get me to where He wants me to be, and I will never be disappointed. This is my declaration of who I am.” (From Joel Osteen’s work, “I AM”.)
I like to spend some time in contemplation and prayer at our little kitchen table in the mornings, journal and coffee at hand, with a candle burning. It’s a time for seeking God’s Will and His Presence, and something I started doing 30 years ago as a new mother. There have been seasons when I neglected this precious practice, or when the nature of that time was something other than it is now. I noticed that life doesn’t flow as smoothly, that my burdens seem heavier, and my attitude crapier when I miss these moments. It is something I always come back to at some point. My default position.
One of the blessings from the breast cancer journey I went through is a renewed commitment to my personal spiritual life – a Coming Home, if you will. I’ve winnowed out what works and what doesn’t work for me, what spiritual ideals and practices fit and which don’t. Certainly, I don’t fit the mold of a typical fundamentalist Christian, and I’m good with that. I am a believer in, and a follower of, Jesus the Christ and look to the Bible for much of my inspiration and direction. After all of the miracles I have experienced, after all the times when I literally felt the supernatural touch of God on me, I couldn’t be anything else. And I’ve tried.
In this Season After the Fire, when my “New Normal” is being normalized, I spend even more time than usual thinking about, talking to, God. For of all things that I desire – it is the desire to live out God’s Will that burns within me the hottest. Whatever that may look like, I am completely surrendered.
I think. (smile)
But deciphering God’s Will and plan for my life isn’t always easy for me. Sure, there are times when divine direction is so obvious, I just want to slap my forehead and say, “Duh!”
Other times, however, the direction isn’t as clear, or doesn’t feel like it is showing up at all. and I am left contemplating the idea that what DOESN’T happen is the Will. I am being led by what prayers AREN’T answered (or, perhaps, were answered with “No”.)
Times like when interviews prove fruitless, or the promises made to me by others don’t come to pass. Other times I end up hitting brick walls, when the path I am on leads “nowhere”.
I’m in one of those times right now and it’s like trying to find my way out of a maze. My view is obstructed and progress seems as at standstill. It’s hard not to feel trapped. Lost, even.
But I know – from experience – I am anything but.
This is a time when my faith is being stretched. My desires, honed. Growth often takes resistance, and I’ve learned that struggle isn’t a sign that I’ve blown it. It could be that the struggle is producing the strength I need for the next part of my journey, much like a butterfly needs the struggle of exiting a cocoon if it is to be healthy and strong.
After months of Maze Walking, it was a real comfort to received a Word from the Lord this morning assuring me that His Hand is guiding me. That His plans and purposes WILL prevail in my life. It is important that I keep this in mind I can’t let discouragement weigh me down, or worry to steal my peace.
I just need to be patient and allow myself to be led through this season one step at a time, and trust that He is with me and that His plans for me are good.
The shift IS coming.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go. I will counsel you and watch over you.” – Psalm 32:8
Fresh from the treatment room where I had received the IV medication I’ve taken every 3 weeks for the last year, I was still groggy from the Benedryl. “What?”
“That’s it! You’re all done with your treatments!” His smile grew bigger.
“But I thought I still had 1 more!” Much more alert, I also suddenly felt scared, interestingly enough.
“Nope. You haven’t missed any and 17 is what I generally give and today you got 17. You’re all done.”
Nearly 24 hours later, and I can still hardly believe it. In February of 2015, when I was told it would take 18 months to complete the course of treatment recommended, I honestly didn’t think I could do it. 18 months was a lifetime! It wasn’t just the surgery I had to face. It was 6 rounds of chemotherapy. It was the 35 rounds of radiation. It was a year’s worth of Herceptin, and all the poking and prodding and testing in between. It sounded like a hideous 18 month clusterf*** of pain and danger and potential side effects to deal with.
This wasn’t a sprint. It was a marathon and I hate running!
I didn’t think I could do it. I literally did not know if I’d be strong enough or brave enough to do it! All I felt was fear – Me, who didn’t think she was afraid of anything, was suddenly a coward begging God to PLEASE make it all go away!. Seriously, I promised to do literally ANYTHING if it all just miraculously disappeared.
But in spite of the prayers, God didn’t make the cancer go away. At least, not supernaturally (which I know happens.) Instead, S/he took me by the shoulders, pointed me towards the fiery furnace, and said, “Go. Just take one step at a time. And I will be with you all the way.”
That’s exactly what happened. With every step I took, God was there walking with me, never leaving my side and – during some particularly dark moments – carrying me through the flames. One step. Then another and another.
Suddenly, 18 months was over. I made it!
I believe in the power of prayer. I believe that all prayer is answered, just not necessarily in the form that we think or hope it will be. Experiencing an immediate deliverance or an unfolding grace for the journey – both are answered prayer and both are miraculous.
Day and night. Light and Dark. The Lord created them both and while we may not always understand it, the Dark IS holy. There are certain things we can learn only by experiencing a Dark Night, as fearsome and lonely and painful and confusing as it might be. That’s why authentic Shamans are those who have experienced a real and traumatic “death and rebirth” of some type. Not at all like the New Age folks self-identifying as shamans after taking a few courses, beating a drum, and finding a few hawk feathers.
Learning to accept the dark days of our lives as part of the natural order of things helps relieve some of our suffering. We come to understand that we aren’t being punished when bad things happen to us – when we suddenly find ourselves face to face with the fire. We are being called to transform.
In 18 months, I learned to prioritize and simplify my life. To say “No” where before I said “Yes”. I learned who my real friends were, and how to care for myself when no one showed up. I learned to trust “in spite of”….in spite of my fears, in spite of what others had experienced, even in spite of doubt. My personal spiritual beliefs were honed and sharpened. I know now what I believe in, and WHO I believe in, with a deeper understanding and depth than ever before. The dross floated to the top and has been skimmed away.
The fire purifies, if we let it.
Every tear I wept was gathered in gentle Hands and kept for safe keeping. Every time I bowed my head….in weakness or humbleness or fear or worship…those same Hands tenderly smoothed over my hairless head and brought me physical comfort, and an soulful awareness that I wasn’t alone.
And every groan of despair that rose from deep within my belly and broke through lips cracked and blistered was turned into a song of deliverance.
The dark is not to be feared, but revered. For without the darkness of the night sky, we’d never see the stars.
So. That’s it! And I have such mixed emotions. As I turn the page to close one chapter of my life, the blank page of the next is staring me full in the face. So much has changed, but I’ve never been more ME. I’ve lost much….friends, my job, my old identity…but I’ve gained so much more.
I feel like a new being. I know that the Next Right Thing will reveal itself to me in due season. The right people. The right events. The right stuff. Trust in the Divine Plan for my life has never been stronger, forged in the furnace of affliction.
I have walked through the fire and, as promised, made it to the other side unscathed.
To God be the glory.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” – Isaiah 43:2