Last night I had the opportunity to visit with some friends. It was long overdue. There is something so sweetly simple about falling back into the cadence of intimacy with women who know me and my heart and love me for who I am. They don’t ask anything of me other than to be true and faithful. Considering this past year has brought about so many trials for me, I found myself reflecting on the woman I’ve become through it all.
The season of the Fall festivals is a great time for introspection and reflection. What blessings and curses do we want to release into our lives for the year to come? Have I been paying the consequences for poor choices I’ve made since last year at Yom Kippur? Can I see areas of blessing in my life related to obedience to the Lord? I have to confess that a large portion of my emotional energy has been spent this past year in grieving. I cannot say for sure if all of it was “redemptive” in nature or not. Much of the time, I think I was just experiencing the emotion and pain of losing friends and community. It all sort of came to a head recently as I’ve realized how inept I am at being a mother, wife, and teacher all alone. I have no desire to be a “lone ranger” and try to navigate my way without dear friends and encouragers who have been where I am before. I suppose part of me desires the great cloud of witnesses here in my life right now. How does someone pick up and start fresh when there are so many heart-ties to the past and relationships that have been so close? Admittedly, part of the emotional roller coaster has been self-pity. Part of the pain has been experiencing Yeshua’s own heart, for I know that He grieves for broken relationships and communities. He is the One who designed us to be in groups, not alone. It is easier to be deceived when you are only accountable to your own heart. Part of the grieving process has been the simple pain of loss – experiencing it and trying to put it in the past as much as possible without walking in bitterness. Many times over the past year, I’ve tried to force myself to “get over it” to no avail.
It wasn’t until last night as I was at dinner with my friends that I started to see something that I haven’t seen before. Most of us are happy to forego any kind of suffering in this life. We live comfortable lives here in America, and even if our finances are tight, it’s the life of kings in many places in the world. But we all will face loss and death in this life no matter how much we try to circumvent it. We will all face pain and suffering, especially if we are walking in faithfulness to God’s ways. God disciplines those He loves and let’s be honest – it’s not always fun. I’ve never gone for such a long and unrelenting season of heart turmoil before in my life. For some reason, this year has just been plain horrible when it comes to what’s going on in my heart. I prayed last year at the beginning of the Fall festivals for the Lord to reveal Himself to me in a deeper way. I always pray that and have gotten so used to not really experiencing the deeper level that the prayer was more rote than anything else. God isn’t the One who has kept away; it’s been my own lack of motivation or desire or something. But I’ve never pressed in until this year. I’ve never wanted or needed Him to the extent I have this year – of course, I always needed Him desperately but just didn’t really start to realize it until this cycle of feasts. The process of humbling and loss and facing my true self and having to walk without the friends I’ve always relied on has broken my heart over and over again. I’ve had to face my mom’s sickness, desiring to be there in support and yet realizing for the first time how precious life is and the fact that we just don’t know when we will lose these precious souls God has planted around us. I’ve started to see life in a new way. Truly, I’m not surviving anymore, even though my life is just as administratively difficult as it always has been. Managing five children and homeschooling three of them will force that to be true for awhile. However, my heart is living in a plane above the details. Not that it’s been perfect. Far from it. However, I have to be totally honest when I say that I’ve started to really desire God. This pain and suffering and “growing up” has been forcing me deeper and deeper into Him. I can’t say how many times I’ve told Him over the course of this season that I don’t want it, that the pain is not worth it. But then I always go back to that picture He gave me a few years ago. There was a narrow, overgrown, rocky, steep path that could barely be seen beneath all the sharp rocks and thorns on the sides, not to mention going straight up a mountain. Yeshua stood at the start of the path and held out His hand to me. He waited for a slight moment (as if to see if I would take His hand) then grabbed me and pulled me forward. He said to me that I must walk this path, but that He would be with me. At the time, I hadn’t been experiencing His closeness and friendship, so this picture seemed harsh and unnecessary. Why would He tell me I had to walk this path with Him? He literally pulled me along, and I can only surmise that it was because He sensed the slightest bit of willingness in my spirit to embrace all that He has for me. Since then, the path certainly has felt rocky and sharp. However, I know I walk in blessing and providence and mercy as well. No matter what, I know that the most important part of that picture is the fact that He is with me. He is holding my hand.
All this past year, as I’ve probably focused much more on the pain of the experiences than I have what God was trying to do in me through it, I haven’t really been overcoming. I finally started to see something new last night. The Lord gave me a picture of a beautiful, large, red desert bloom, full and blossoming, in the midst of a hard-cracked earth of desert stretching far around on all sides of the bloom. While I’ve been lost in the hurting, the last thought it my mind was what was happening to me in the spirit. I think God showed me that as a confirmation that suffering is never without purpose. We might not see it or be willing to see it for quite some time. How depressing to be in pain and not see a reason for it. While I’ve felt the pressing and refining fire so keenly, He has been seeing that bloom start to grow from dormancy to full luster (hopefully even fuller as I grow and grow). I sat surrounded by my friends at the dinner table and fell so easily back into fellowship. I realized how the lack of fellowship has actually shoved me headlong into God’s presence. I’ve experienced such a lack this year that I didn’t even realize I started to desire His presence as my friend. I’ve been hungry for Him more than ever before. It is not that we do not need friends around us and helping us along. Indeed, I still desire full reconciliation and true community. However, God showed me myself in comparison to what I would have been had I not lost this group of dear friends over this past year. I would not have grown. I would not have hungered for Him. He had to take all that away so that I would finally see my true needs for all they are, without having any distractions. I hadn’t really had to face anything while I was distracted. I was allowing other relationships to get in the way of my own true intimacy with the Lord and I think that is what He wanted to touch on so that I could begin fresh. All this time, there has been a purpose, and all this time I was blossoming. I didn’t even know it.
How good God is. May I desire more and more His presence and His Word. I don’t want to walk in distracted, hazy survival any more. I want the clear-eyed perspective of heaven in this new year. May my name be inscribed for friendship with the Lord before all else.