In 2004 I signed up with a friend to go to the Women of Faith conference in
By the time the conference came my friend had decided that the trip would be a mother / daughter bonding trip and I was not included in their plans. I had just gone through a challenging time in the church and had been avoiding all people even remotely associated with the church. This was difficult to do when your son goes to school at the church. I tried to put on a happy face each Sunday and go to services, but all that resulted in was more crying. People started to question if I was giving up on God due to my sudden absence from everything. Sheila Walsh wrote in her book, Extraordinary Faith, about a woman in a faith crisis. She quotes the woman as saying, “I used to believe. I used to believe that God loved me, and the church would be there for you when times got rough, but it’s a crock. The church is just a building full of people pretending to be okay when they’re bleeding to death.” I wasn’t quite as far as this woman in hurt, but I certainly was one of those people bleeding to death pretending everything was okay.
There was absolutely no one in my faith community I trusted enough to talk to about the hurt. I thought to my self, If I tell anyone they will either gossip about it or in a good hearted effort offer up a prayer request to their small group divulging my hurt. People would know and pity me or take opportunity to hurt me further in my weakness. I’ve had both happen in the last year, so my fears were not completely unwarranted. These things continue to happen, but I respond a little differently.
The day of the conference came. I was signed up to share a bed with someone I didn’t know. The other ladies had made arrangements with their friends as to what social thing they were going to do in their off time and who was going to sit with whom on the bus. They packed lunches together and were sharing the experience. I made arrangements with my husband that if I wanted to bail he would come get me. Good thing
There were some women on the bus who noticed I was “alone” – hard to do on a bus full of people. They engaged me in their conversation and I politely participated, thinking as soon as we’re off the bus they’re going to ditch me. This thought falls under the category I like to call “Irrational Fear”. One of those things you think is going to happen though there’s no reason to think it will. They did not ditch me thought I left gapping holes for them to do it. These were women I had seen at church, even been on committees with, but would not have considered a friend before this experience.
That first night of Women of Faith I learned that the topic was Irrepressible Hope. I certainly fell in that category. I had hope that someday I would belong to a church community again, and that I wouldn’t stay in pain forever. There were these bright pink shirts a lot of people were wearing that said, “Q: Which girls does Jesus love? A: This girl.” Over the weekend I though to my self, I don’t need a shirt to tell me that. I know that Jesus loves me. I know that all things are possible through Jesus and that He will provide for my every need. I know that he guards my life each and every day despite taking significant risks. What sane person walks into the home of a drug dealer, a murderer, or a sex offender, armed only with a faith that God will protect them. I also firmly believe that God will take me on His terms and no one else can control that. By the end of the night I knew that there was a reason for me to come to Women of Faith. The reason had nothing to do with my original intent, hang out with my friends, but was God’s intent.
Bonnie Hahn, a lady at church that has been wise for me on a few occasions, once told me that sometimes people need more ministering to than they are able to give. I knew that I needed ministering to at this time. I was grateful that I could acknowledge that since I have witnessed people in need struggle to provide ministry to others. The hard part of acknowledging that need is that if you don’t trust God’s community to minister to you, where are you going to turn. For me it was in the quiet arena of Women of Faith. While thousands of women stood and sang, talked between themselves, shouted, laughed, and reveled in the glory of the conference. I sat quietly listening to the message, writing in my journal, and just absorbing Gods love for me through all these women. I honestly believe that if I had heard the same message in a different situation I would have completely missed it or discredited it.
As the weekend passed the image of Christ being crucified kept coming to my mind. The easy interpretation of that was that I had been crucified in the church community causing me all this pain and sorrow, and that I was not strong enough to handle it. I knew in my heart that this was not the right answer, but the quick way out. I knew it was easy to blame someone else for your hurt, but I also knew that God would never put on me a cross I couldn’t bear. I had some faith left, but wasn’t sure if it was enough to get me through. I could identify that I was not happy anywhere I turned. I had left my responsibilities at church. Stopped associating with the church, and was considering leaving my job because of issues there. The common thread for all these things was that I was having a hard time relying on people and trusting people. It was time that I finally learned how to fully rely on God. I thought I had been FROGing it (Fully Rely On God) as I had seen in the Christian stores dangling from key chains and bracelets. I now realized that I was only partially relying on God, and allowing His people to fill in the gaps I held. I had been living and ministering in a spiritual “gaposis”, a term I use to describe someone’s clothing when you can see their skin or under garments between the buttons. I had been living in a faith that was too small for God and he was tired of being stuffed in. I had been smothering God’s glory in my life.
So here I was on my spiritual knees in a very large crowd of people – people I feared would harm me if they knew. I spent the whole weekend this way. On the inside I was in constant prayer, while on the outside I was going through the motions of society so that they wouldn’t know. The whole time I was learning to make new friends with the women who had spoken to me on the bus. I was even starting to trust them.
As the weekend progressed I started thinking about the tomb Jesus’ body rested in before his ascension. I thought to my self, now there’s a promise that I’m not qualified to receive. I have way too many character flaws to lead a truly spiritual life. I could hear God in the back ground saying that it was fine to have these flaws, that he takes me as I am. I could list the reasons I could not ever minister again, people had told them to me. I couldn’t quote scripture off the top of my head. The same person who told me that one also once told me that God will provide His words when needed and that you don’t have to memorize the Bible. Funny how people contradict themselves. Just a side note – God does provide the words. He’s shown me in some of the strangest situations. This is just another example of how God tried to show me to FULLY rely on Him, but I wasn’t paying attention.
Since the tomb image was a little much for me in my weakened state, God was gracious enough to change it a little for me. I just love it when He talks directly to me in a way I can understand. God showed me that I had been leading my life as I was created, similar to a caterpillar, and that it was time for a change. He didn’t want just a little change. He wanted something new. Something bigger and brighter. God showed me that He has placed me in a cocoon, taking away all the things I had identified myself by so that He could do His work. God said you are no longer a “youth minister”, a “child abuse investigator”, a “wife”, a “mother”, or any other worldly identity. You are a child of God and I will raise you up. There is no other way but through me. He showed me that the goal for life on Earth is not what we do here and how we’re labeled, but the goal is to come to him and be with him in Heaven. What we do on Earth counts, but it is not the prize. The prize is to be with God in Heaven, and to come with an established relationship with God. God doesn’t want to introduce Himself at the gates of Heaven He wants us to know Him already when we arrive. God wants us to find peace and comfort in his presence instead of fear and unknowing.
I have always been comfortable with the idea that one day I will die. I have never been comfortable with the thought that I don’t know what happens for sure after my body dies. I knew what I had been taught, that my body will decompose here on Earth and that my soul would go to Heaven because I believed in God and the resurrection. I knew that I did not want to be buried in a coffin and preserved. What a waste of good matter for the Earth to use in it’s work. As I grew up I also knew that it was against health regulations to just burry me as I am in the soil, so I’ve resorted to cremation. I’m perfectly happy with the idea of my body being disposed of quickly and the ashes scattered somewhere. Just so you know they come in a plastic baggy and shoe box unless otherwise ordered. I’m happy with that as long as the baggy is dumped in the earth, water, or air somewhere. As for my soul, I have suddenly become comfortable with the knowledge that I will be in Heaven with God. No one has had to prove it to me. I know it to be fact. It is something I have learned in my cocoon state.
One of the things that I’ve been struggling with in this period of rest is the thought of others going to be with God. I am very concerned about their soul’s safety and well being. I work with people who claim to have no faith in God, but I see God at work through them every day. They can each tell me how people representing God turned their back on them, but they can’t tell me how God turned His back on them. I can see in their eyes the respect they have for people who are open about their relationship with God, and that they long for that relationship as well. One person at work has such a great respect for my personal relationship with God that when things get rough and I say a cuss word, another character flaw that I wasn’t ready to give up, she apologizes for making me cuss. I know that she didn’t make me cuss, but I find it gracious that she identifies it as an issue with my spiritual life. I’ve also noticed that since I have started this new part of my faith journey, the cussing has drastically cut back and is only used in relation to work issues.
The conference continued and I kept praying. I went through a lot of Kleenex there in the dark. Every time I thought about running from the room, or even taking a small break, I thought I can’t even get out of the row without tripping over someone. If I trip over someone they’ll definitely see that I’m crying and will follow me, “to see if I’m alright”. I didn’t know if I could control myself if anyone asked that. I was fearful that if someone asked I would start yelling at them, “No, I’m not alright. I’m tired of people claiming to be Christians and to walk in Jesus’ path, but then hurt people. I’m tired of looking at people preach one thing and then do another. I’m tired of watching people minister to others for their own glory. I’m tired of people gossiping under the title of ministering. I’m just tired of people having flaws.” All the while knowing that I had done some of these things if not all of them over the course of my life. On Friday morning Patsy Clairmont had said, “nowhere we can escape the spirit”. I diligently wrote that down in my journal of things I would review later. Thank goodness God was there making me live that phrase at that moment or I would have missed it. He was right, I couldn’t escape Him or his message. Even if I left the auditorium He would still be there. Foolish human thought that I could take a break from God. He was definitely tired of me taking a break from Him and I needed the attitude check in the worst way. He was tired of living in a gaposis life and me trying to fill it with people. Another speaker on Friday, Bobbie Mason stated, “I’ll be standing in the gap for you”. God was saying to me loud and clear – get rid of the gap holders that’s MY place.
It was when Max Lucedo spoke that I really had the picture of the butterfly life clearly. Max Lucedo stated, “God promotes God for our salvation”. Oh, so you mean that everything we do here is to get there? My whole purpose in life is to gain eternal life in Heaven? Well DUH! I think God used a big enough stick to hit me over the head with. Max Lucedo also said “I’m along for the ride.” I thought, God you mean that you want full control of my life and I’ll just sit back and wait on the prize? This is starting to sound way to easy. What’s the catch? The catch as I’ve come to learn is this. Though I’m a butterfly that God is creating in His image, I have to FROG.
Another thing Max Lucedo addressed was this thought I had that maybe God wanted me to give up my work. I kept hearing people say that we needed to only associate with fellow Christians and protect ourselves from non believers. That by doing this we would protect our place in heaven. I knew that at work I was with self proclaimed atheists, and definitely worked with sinners. I kept asking myself if by associating with these people was I allowing Satan the opportunity to take hold of my life, was I turning may back on God, was I turning my back on my family. I was certain that I had been negligent in my roles as a wife and mother; I mean my one year old son turned to his father for everything and didn’t even allow me to do the simplest things for him. My husband increasingly held resentment against the job and encouraged me to quit so that I could find peace. He could see that the people I worked with were dragging me down emotionally and I wasn’t serving anyone well. He was not surprised when I gave up youth ministry because I no longer felt effective, and felt that it was a constant struggle to minister to the youth that I saw were in greatest need. My husband knew that I had a passion for people and youth who were lost and needed God’s help. He knew that I was comfortable ministering to youth who had issues with drugs and alcohol, family violence, anything that was not ideal. I was also willing to trust that once God had a firm hold on someone that he would nurture and care for them, this included youth that were in strong Christian households who prayed with their family and shared in their faith with their family. I knew they would always get something out of youth functions, but that God wanted them there to help minister to those in need. The inner conflict got so bad that I thought, they’re right I can’t associate myself with bad people; I have to leave them to the wolves. Someone someday will reach them, but it’s not me. I kept seeing the wolves attacking those without God on their side. I could put faces in my Christian community with the wolf actions. I was constantly scared for the people as well as the wolves. I wanted them all to know God’s love and passion for them. I wanted them to have peace in His light. Max Lucedo stated, “Hate sin, love sinners”. That answered the question for me. That put focus on the passion God had placed in my heart. I decided that I had to bring God to the job every day in every way. I had to trust God to work on the Christians and to be an example that they can rely on for a point of reference on their path toward God. I had to let God’s light shine as brightly as possible through me without trying to keep it hidden.
I’m a planner so I started to ask God, OK what’s the plan? What do I need to do tomorrow? What kind of a time schedule are we on? Keep in mind I’m still crying and broken. I could be in the middle of church and someone shout, “We’ve got a bleeder here” and it be completely true. God seemed to get that knowing smile on his face and kind of laughed at me. He said, “Caterpillars do not become butterflies in 20 minutes. This is my time. Take comfort in this period of peace and rest. I’ll let you know when it’s time.” I have had to be reminded of that a few times this year. I’m still trying to train people that are used to me taking control of things that I’m not ready yet. I’m also being very choosey of what I offer to help on. The last thing I want is to loose focus on God. In the past year I have become a better person, a better wife, and a better mother. My son now wants to stay home with me instead of focusing his affection on dad or the daycare teacher. I do let him stay home sometimes, just because. I even had the opportunity to take him from
What’s the plan you ask? It’s to listen to God at all times and follow His plan. Our goals are the same so it only matters that we achieve them. God wants me to be with him, and to bring people with me to his throne. He knows better than I how to get there, so I have to Fully Rely On God.
So as God’s butterfly I know that he wants me to plant seeds in the hearts of His people and help bring them into His light. Frequently Christians make reference to planting seeds, but then they get a little diverted. When I was actively involved in ministry I kept having this thought that I planted the seed and I have to nurture it. I put all the burden of bringing people into a relationship with God on my shoulders. I didn’t consider how others in God’s community could help. I had never thought that I was just a pin point on God’s planned path for that person. I had thought that I was the path. Talk about a wrong impression. An individual blade of grass does not make en entire carpeted path. I was just an individual blade of grass on God’s path to Him. My role was to help guide people to Him, kind of lift them out of the dirt on their journey.
If we look at the Bible in the very beginning God had a great plan for Adam and Eve, but they had a few character flaws that got in the way of God’s plan. They both ate from the tree of knowledge and were both punished for it. God was their parent and had tried to protect them, but he could not control their free will to eat of the forbidden fruit. He could warn them and try to protect them, just as parents try to do for their children. Any way they all suffered the consequences of their actions. Just as God handled the situation then, he continues on that promise. God created us in His image and he has compassion for our sins. We are His chosen people that He wants in Heaven. God wants us to raise up to Him at all times. He wants us planted in the Rock. In Genesis God states to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all the livestock and wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.” When God is working through us to form His relationship with someone He does not want them to be as the serpent crawling in the dust. He wants them to know that they are special and closer to being with Him. As people of God we can come together as a community to create a thick blanket of grass to make the path to God. We can lift those who put themselves in the dust out of it and into His light.
As individual blades of grass it’s easy to feel trampled and abused as I felt at that 2004 conference. What I learned was that though we’re individuals we are part of a greater community that has the potential to bring others into a relationship with God by providing a thick luxurious path of grass for them to stroll on. Take a break and close your eyes. Imagine a desert with rocks, boulders, cactus, wild animals (especially snakes). Not very appealing to walk through. Now add to that image a long meandering strip of grass that is so vibrant and green that it glows as an emerald in the sun. You even wonder if the grass is really emeralds due to the stunning beauty of it all. These are the choices set before people starting their relationship with God. Do I stay in the waste land because I know what to expect and it’s what I’m used to or do I go down this glorious path.
Here’s where things get even more confusing. Sometimes the individual blades of that path are a little withered, torn, not quite perfect. People tend to be that way. We are tested in our lives each and every day and sometimes get a little tired. It’s part of being Human. We are after all created in God’s image, but are far from being perfect like God. As a person starting a relationship with God looks at the desert and the path they squat down for a better look. They know what to expect in the desert, but what if the path isn’t what it seems. While they’re on their knees contemplating the safest rout they are hearing the serpent tell them that the desert is better, that if they go that way there’s something spectacular on the other side. They also see the individual blades of grass for which they are, maybe just a little mangled and bruised. In their mind they start questioning if this path is really what it appears to be. The serpent is whispering, “See if you go down that path it will get worse and there will be nothing for you there.”
This is when we as Christians have a choice. Do we battle the lies of the serpent or do we sit quietly by. There’s only one snake, but hundreds of blades of grass. It is possible to share as a community the promise God offers us on our faith journey. God wants us to share that as an individual we believe in Him. Here’s our chance to do that. There are times though when we’re the battered and bruised blade of grass and we tend to say, “Not today”. Sometimes we choose to stand there quietly as the person seeks for the truth and we stifle God’s light. We fail to accept God’s decree to us to bring all people into a relationship with Him. What a disservice to the Lord. Other times we’re in that mode where we need ministering to and we say things like, “yeah, I’m a Christian, but I’m not active right now.” I just love how we tend to hide when we’re in faith crisis. What we’re really saying is that I’m accepting societal label of Christianity for myself, but I’m not really into it right now. I’m thinking about taking a break from God. There are even times when we say; well I’m taking a break from the whole “God thing” right now. I’ll get back to Him when I’m ready. The hard part with that is sometimes we just don’t get back to Him. It’s like going to college. Everyone said go straight to college and go all the way through or you’ll never finish your degree. Why is it easier to believe that than it is to believe that God doesn’t want us to take breaks from Him?
In talking to non believers I’ve learned that they tend to interview Christians about their faith. Sometimes even grilling them about it. When doing this they ask general questions about their life and church. Non believers are hesitant to say, “Tell me about God” because they are fearful that the response will be a soap box. It’s how we respond in all that we do that affect the nonbeliever. When I talk to nonbelievers, I don’t like that term so I’m going to change it to seekers. I have a faith that inn God’s time they will find Him. Kind of a glass half full concept of salvation. Any way, when talking to seekers they tell me about how individual Christians act one way then another. They have their church life and then their real life. This behavior leads the seeker to see ambiguity in God when they’re looking for something solid.
I was at a teen conference where the speaker talked about riding on a plane and seeing a light on the ground. The whole time he thought it was a search light of some sort, but eventually found out that the light was the moon reflecting from the plane to the Earth. I think of this now because a seeker is not going to look for the light reflecting off the plane, they are going to seek out the source, but if the light is too distorted they may follow the wrong beam. Tracing the light back from the ground to the plane was difficult for even the believer. Imagine having to do that with no direction in a relationship with God. The way the speaker learned the truth was through the other Christians on the plane who clarified the source for him. Now look at the light from the plane to the moon. There are many other light sources out there attempting to grab you attention. There are stars in the sky, city lights, other planes. Too many things to distort your view of the source. Even as Christians we follow the wrong path of light at times. The light from the moon isn’t even from the moon. It’s a reflection from the sun. Sometimes as Christians we worship the moon instead of the sun. I know that you just went, “Huh???” Just follow for a little while.
Remember when I was talking about those times when we allow people to fill in the gaps and forget to place God there? It’s the same thing. One of Christian’s flaws is that we’re human and we allow earthly things to get in the way of heavenly things. The moon could be a person here on earth that we identify to be extremely Christ like and forget that they are just a reflection of God and not the true image. We get so focused on how great the person is and not on the work the person is doing with God’s direction that we glorify the person. When they get a little battered and bruised we tend to discard them for someone else and never really letting God fill in the gaps. When a seeker places their faith in a person and that person is hurting, they see how the system is flawed and they don’t wait to see God’s glory from that situation. The seekers I’ve talked to have decided that it’s not worth it to be Christian. I still have faith that God’s glory will come to them because I have yet to hear them say that they disavow all knowledge of God and His presence in this world.
As Christians working in Gods service it is so important for us to get our inner light from the one true source, the Son (previously called the sun). God does not want his light distorted or skewed for those seeking it. He wants them to see Him for all His true glory and wonders.