My Journey from Misery to Ministry

"You asked, 'who is this who questions My wisdom with such ignorance?' It is I - and I was talking about things I knew nothing about; things far too wonderful for me." ~Job 42:3

Saturday, March 19, 2011

46. Scary Road Ahead: Comfort in the Books of Moses

Eugene H. Peterson is a genius.

He is the author of The Message Bible, whose by-line is The Bible in Contemporary Language. Some believers may not go for these newfangled biblical translations but for me, this contemporary version of the Word has armed me with a sword that actually fits in my hand, is easily unsheathed, and isn't too heavy to wield in battle.

Like most people making their way across a deep river, or facing scary, uncertain roads ahead, I spend a lot of time reading the Bible standards--the comforting psalms; the wisdom of the proverbs; the stories of Jesus. But recently I was drawn inexplicably to the beginning of The Beginning: I read Mr. Peterson's introduction to the books of Moses. Never before had I realized the first five books of the Bible can be looked at as signposts of our own lives--an illustration of human growth.  Most of us can apply this illustration to our own lives. Reaching the book of Deuteronomy is the twilight of our journey: that place when our growing and training pays off and we cross the bridge into 'adulthood', ready to assume our place in the world God has prepared for us. Check it out:

Genesis is conception. Peterson states, "God conceives a People to whom He will reveal himself as a God of salvation...He begins with one man... and as the embryo takes shape: Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Esau, Rachel, Joseph and his brothers, the pregnancy develops".

Exodus is birth and infancy, beginning with Egyptian slavery as the first birth pangs. "...Moses arrives on the scene to preside over the birth itself... with the Red Sea the waters break, and the people of God tumble out of the womb onto dry ground, and their life as a free people of God begins..." They are spoon fed as they crawl and toddle through the desert.

Leviticus is schooling. The people need structure to grow, so formal schooling must take place. Like a first-grade reading primer, the basic curriculum for the people is  about God and their relationship with God, with rituals, sacrifices, and feasts, its illustrations.

Numbers is adolescence. The people are advanced enough to be able to take care of themselves; to think for themselves. Peterson states, "the people of God in Numbers are new at these emerging independent operations of behaving and thinking and so inevitably make a lot of mistakes".  (Sounds indeed like a teenager to me!)

Deuteronomy is adulthood. The child (the people of God) has been conceived, nurtured in the womb, birthed, spoon-fed, taught to walk, trained and disciplined, and has had forty years to practice becoming an adult. It is now time to become the adult; ready "to be as grown up inwardly as (he is) outwardly".

Eugene Peterson's introduction to the books of Moses is a primer to the many stories, heroes, and eras throughout the Bible where God shows us plainly that our circumstances always have a purpose. Like a child conceived, born, and grown to adulthood, our circumstances always lead to growth.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

45. An Anniversary Blessing

This weekend marks the one year anniversary of my exile from Brown Rd, Olympia. Instead of feeling devastated and reliving the trauma of that weekend, I am choosing (quite easily) to celebrate. Not the loss of my marriage, my Father hates divorce. I'm celebrating the recovery of the child God created me to be.

Today I began to re-read the book of Romans, and was stopped in my tracks by the Holy Spirit before even completing the first chapter! (Kim and Courtney, you might remember me referring to this as the Holy Spirit elbow-to-the-side when you were little :) 

Paul, "an obscure Roman citizen without connections" wrote his letter during a time of literary giants in Roman civilization: royal decrees, important poetry, moral philosophy--yet Paul's letter rose to great influence, surpassing all the world-class writings of the time. How could I not pay attention today?

Paul highlighted for me in Romans 1:22-25 how, from my lofty perch in my home in the forest above Olympia, I had lost sight of my First Love--GOD, who created that forest surrounding that home. I had traded Him for a big house, a pretty yard, an intellectually superior husband, financial security and lots of toys. I went to church, yes, I praised Him with singing, I had a fish on my car---but I had become proud and boastful.  Many times over the past year the thought has not escaped me, how many pictures I had on facebook of my home; or how walking into Costco now stung a little because I could no longer splurge on whatever I fancied. Pride and I had each other over a barrel: we OWNED each other.

Time and time and time again we see how God gently rescues His beloved from themselves, where the story goes like this: they think their world has come to an end; they feel like they've been blindsided; they only see rejection, grief, and loss...until one day Someone opens their eyes to the truth of their situation: RESCUE. GRACE. MERCY. BETTER-THINGS.  My exile from my home was NEVER a punishment (although I certainly deserved punishment). It was never a tool to teach me a lesson. It was never God saying you think you're a bigshot Trace, well let Me just show you what bigshot is... NO!  My exile was a blessing. Being saved from MYSELF was an act of kindness from a Father to His daughter, and Paul made that absolutely clear to me on this important weekend. 

"For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles"    ~Romans 1:21-23

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

45. Mirror Talk

As our hearts face, process, deal with, and eventually heal from their brokenness--betrayal, loss, disappointment-- we GROW. We grow UP, we grow STRONGER, we grow HEALTHIER. During the time of profound grief following a breakup this concept is nearly impossible to grasp. We think, there is no way I'll ever recover from this; no way I'll ever think of this event as simply an intersection in my life... NO!

There are times my Creator speaks to me, saying,  I'm here to tell you, by the name of Jesus who created you, who drives you, who created the entire universe yet is one hundred percent focused on YOU: you will get through this disappointment/ betrayal/loss/grief. You will be healthy and happy again!

Here is an exercise: hold up a mirror, look yourself in the eye, and tell yourself you love yourself. It's good for you, and it makes God happy to hear you say those precious words to yourself. There is a lot of power in words. Just look at what your husband's words did to you! Now, if you know by your own evidence the power that lies in the tongue, then use that very power to lift yourself back up to the woman God created you to be. Look at yourself in the mirror every day and say, out loud, to you: I will be healthy and happy again. God loves me, and I love me, too. God created me to be loved: I AM LOVE-ABLE.

Positive talk to the you in the mirror isn't easy in the beginning. While you're devastated it might even seem impossible; you may have to really force the words out BUT: it gets easier every time you do it. Keep in mind that when you tell yourself that you love you, you are also telling Jesus that you love Him, because He resides in you! He lives in you because He LOVES paradise, and you are paradise to Him! He WANTS to reside in you, He LOVES residing in you! He LOVES the you that He created. Tell Him! Tell you: I LOVE YOU!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

44. Mental Memory Boxes

I stubbornly hold on to knick-knacks, trinkets, letters, and photos from my childhood (as well as from both my girls' childhood; how many of us moms have kept every scrap of artwork from our kids' preschool days... I know I'm not alone here!).  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this--it's healthy, comforting, and oftentimes entertaining. I've lost track of how many psychology-based books and articles I've read this year, and have not come across one word condemning moderate possession of keepsakes.

Conversely, keeping memories of loved ones, and days gone by, is also healthy.  We all had good times with the man who left us; this is why his departure from our lives broke our hearts, is it not?  Personally, thinking about my married life, and the ensuing sadness that always arises, is the single biggest struggle I face with my separation. Intrusive memories crash down like waves that wash me out to sea, where I have no solid ground with which to regain my footing. While I'm treading water in those cold depths I can barely catch my breath, much less get myself together.

And let's face it: intrusive memories that make us cry are rarely the bad, ugly, traumatic ones.  I don't recall ever tearing up over thoughts of arguing over which coffee to buy and whether I talk too much; I have never cried thinking about my ex cursing me at the top of his lungs, oh no! The memories that get me are the sunset walks, naming the new puppy, pillow fights.

Sound familiar, yes? Ah... but it's all normal! It's a required part of the healing process. Like it or not, crying about sweet memories will make you stronger someday. It did me!

Letters, pictures, artwork, are all healthy trinkets we can physically hold in our hands. We look, feel, sometimes smell the keepsake and remember the day we obtained it, or the day it was created. In the same way, remembering something we and our ex did together doesn't fulfill any of our five senses, so our brain creates it's own form of trinket in the form of a vivid memory.  We allow the good memories to arise and take over because they are as close to physically touching, seeing, hearing, tasting, and smelling our ex, as we can get.

But when does healthy memory-caching become unhealthy? Look again at my sentence above regarding the books and articles I've read:  I 'have not come across one word condemning moderate possession of keepsakes.'  We've all seen or heard of the TV programs about hoarders--people who cannot seem to let go of anything, and how their homes become unsafe, unsanitary death-traps with narrow pathways cutting through here and there. Sisters, please examine whether your memories--your keepsake boxes--are becoming too full.  Because if they become too full and you keep adding to them, they will, like the hoarders on TV, become unsafe death traps.

One way you can turn your mental keepsakes box, something you can't just close up and put away on a shelf when you're through looking at it, into a tangible one that you can have some control over, is to write. For me, keeping a journal (my blog) has been one of the best tools of recovery I possess. When I feel sad or out of control with a stubborn intrusive memory I pop out my laptop and start writing.

You don't need a laptop, a desktop, a top of any kind.  You don't need a fancy leather-bound journal with JOURNAL embossed on its cover; you don't even need a plastic one, phooey! All you need to convert your mental keepsakes box to a physical one is a pen and some paper.  Use a 99-cent notebook from the Dollar Store.  Use a cheap pack of binder paper and a stapler. Just WRITE. No rules of grammar, no spell-check, just you and your paper.  When you finish I promise you will feel better. Especially once you take the page in your hand and place it on a shelf.

Take control of your memories. Write.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

43. Lima Beans and Freight Trains

If you have kids, or if your sibling has kids, or if you ever babysat kids you know one thing for certain: kids like sweet things. Candy, cupcakes, gumballs. My daughter Courtney learned the fine art of faking a cough by the time she was four so she could have a hit of the yummy sweet red stuff Mom poured into a spoon. In the mind of a little kid there is absolutely nothing wrong with living off sweets: they know nothing about cavities or chocolate tummy aches, nor do they care. We, on the other hand, are all too aware of the consequences of devouring an entire econo-pak of jelly beans so we say NO.  Not only do we say NO, but in the same breath we say YOU ARE ARE GOING TO EAT LIMA BEANS TONIGHT WITH YOUR DINNER, because we want the child to grow strong healthy bones, not big painful cavities.

God is the adult. We are the child. Not only is God the adult, he is a RESPONSIBLE adult. He knows what is best for us, even when we have no clue. Nothing is more difficult to grasp than this truth when our world has fallen apart, but we must hold onto the knowledge that our Creator wants us to eat good food and grow.  There really is hope for us when we're stuck eating lima beans. If the path we're on for a time is keeping us from growing; if we've been pigging out on jujubes, rest assured he cares enough about us to take them away and serve us up some lima beans instead, not so we can wrinkle our nose and hang our head, but so we can grow, prosper, and flourish!


Along these lines, God showed me a cool lesson one day while I was observing a freight train in the Colombia River Gorge.
I was traveling east on Interstate 84 next to the wide, blue Columbia River. On the other side of the river, a long freight train was also heading east at about the same speed. It was the first time I had ever seen a moving freight train from end to end in it's entirety.  As I pondered this, God spoke to my heart saying, the train you see there is like someone's lifetime. There is a beginning and an end. Each car represents one year of the lifetime. As it moves down the track, a tiny ant is making its way over each and every car.  The ant started at the front of the train and it will finish its journey at the last car.  Each time the ant crosses onto another car it will have passed another year.

The ant cannot comprehend much of whichever car it is on, and it certainly cannot even begin to comprehend the entire train.  You, however, are able to see the entire train, from beginning to end, from your vantage point across the river.  You can see where the ant is headed and where it's been. You can see every car; every year, of it's journey.

God is sitting at the seat in which I sat that day, observing the train with its little ant. He knows where we've been and where we are headed. He knows exactly how many cars are on our train and what obstacles lie on each car. We may not be able to see past the end of our nose in terms of an entire lifetime, but we can take great comfort knowing that God does.

I do not know which car I'm traveling on right now, but it sure seems like a long one. I'm so thankful to know, however, that my Creator is across the river, watching me travel down the track, beginning to end.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Post Worth Revisiting: Climbing a Mountain

"He knows what is best for me. My environment is of His determining. He means it to intensify my faith, to draw me into nearer communion with Himself, to ripen my power. In the dungeon my soul should, let come what will come, His will is welcome; and I shall refuse to be offended in my loving Lord."
           ~Mrs. Charles Cowman's Streams in the Desert:

From my blog December 17, 2009:  45 days into my journey~
Yesterday I had coffee with my friend Lori. I told her how excited it was to be finally in a position of actually seeing God work in this heart-wrenching journey. I haven't known Lori very long, but every time I talk with her she lends a generous pastoral ear, offers sound advice, and gently keeps me grounded in reality. Lori faithfully reminded me that I'll continue to have ups and downs, or ebbs and flows as I continue on towards Life After Divorce; that there will still be times of confusion for me, except now I'll no longer be floating meaninglessly in open sea, going nowhere. Now my ebbs and flows have a sense of purpose and are directing me toward shore.

It was really important for me to hear that. Last night my head cold deteriorated and I started feeling really lousy. That in turn opened me up to some back territory: little stabs of depression and self pity. What little sleep I did get was interrupted by bad dreams. I awoke several times with a fever and coughing, and just had an all-around cruddy night.

This morning I was reminded of Lori's counsel that there will continue to be ups and downs. Had I not heard that yesterday I would have awakened this morning feeling like all my earlier successes were shot; I'd hopelessly feel like I'm never going to find peace. Sitting at the table of reality is such a fine place to be! Of course there are going to be ups and downs in my future. Clearing one hurdle doesn't mean through with the race is through. The devotion above helps remind me that God is sending me UP this mountain slowly, one step at a time. Sometimes I'll slip and fall back but when I do I'll re-climb in steps already planted into the mountainside. These little slips backward only serve to nurture, fuel, and validate my climb.

I will never be offended that my Lord is doing what is absolutely best for me; that He has a plan for a much, much better life for me.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

42. Please Don't Let Go...!

In the opening scene from the 1993 film Cliffhanger starring Sylvester Stallone, a young woman dangles perilously from a failed safety harness above a seemingly bottomless crevasse, high in the Colorado Rockies.  Stallone rushes to her aid, himself securely attached to solid lines, reaches out his hand, and grasps hers in a desperate attempt to keep her from falling to certain death. The struggle that follows reveals the terrified woman pleading, with all the heart-wrenching anguish she possesses, 'Please don't let go, don't let me go'!  It is a movie scene I'll never forget...

Last weekend I drove to my old city, Olympia.  I was scared to death--came close to chickening out and canceling more than once.  In nine months I had never been farther north than Woodland - just ten miles north of where I live now.  Traveling any further has always been too painful; simply out of the question.

On this day, July 31st, I had been invited to the birthday party of a very special little girl who lives in Olympia. She had been through a tough year with her mama, my dear friend Kim, having been deployed to Iraq.  She was turning 11 and her Aunt Tracy was expected to be there for the big event!  While the prospect of driving to Olympia terrified me, I simply could not disappoint my precious little friend by not attending her party, and I really did want to see the family.  I agreed to go, and determined to follow through on my promise come hell or high water.

The week preceding my drive up I had two or three moments of panic.  I was depressed and scared.  I did not think I'd mentally survive actually being in Olympia, driving the roads I know oh-so-well. Knowing I would be within a few miles of my home.  My husband.  My heartbreak. What if I got halfway there and froze? What if I got TO Olympia and froze? What if I got too scared to come back? All these questions and fears swirled around my head for a week.

When Saturday arrived I prayed most of the morning, and set out around 11 am.  As I approached the Woodland exit I felt the Spirit of the Lord in the car with me, with a calm manner and a sweet voice that simply said, in less than a mile we will be stepping into the river you fear so much.  The water will be very swift, and deep.  But I want you to know that you'll not be crossing the river alone; you will be on My back; I'll be carrying you, to the other side and back again.  You will return to this shore unscathed.  Are you ready, child...?

And then I was past Woodland.  And I was completely at peace.  The further north I drove, the more powerful my peace was.  My Creator kept asking how are you doing, Trace, and my answer was always, doing great, Father.  Over and over He said to me, just keep your eyes on the road and you'll see Me.  Before I knew it I reached my destination and found myself helping keep a half dozen ten-year-olds together.  I had a wonderful time!  On the drive back home, same thing:  nothing but peace.  Before I knew it I was crossing south through Woodland and back into Vancouver; home again safe and sound--and very, very happy.

Sometime later in the week I was praying and meditating on God's grace and mercy and I considered that opening scene in Cliffhanger.  I thought to myself:  God, who created the entire, vast universe, is like Stallone in that scene:  hanging on tightly to my hand while I dangle precariously above the crevasse, pleading with every ounce of my being for Him not to let go of me.  But I had it wrong.

His gentle spirit spoke again, saying no, child, it is not I who is secured to the rope, clinging tightly to your hand while you beg Me not to let go; you are the one safely secured, and I am begging you not to let go of Me. 

So great is the love of our Father, who keeps us safely secured without our even knowing it!  He created EVERYTHING we know; He owns it all--Psalm 50:10-11 says "For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird on the mountains, and all the animals of the field" --yet he begs us not to let go of Him.

Is there really any way at all to comprehend this?  I am at a loss to be able to do so.  Thinking about His vast love for me; His concern for me, is so comforting!  He truly is my rock--He is my new husband!  I am so in love with Him and so grateful for His grace.  My trip to Olympia last weekend, something I feared mightily, has given me new eyes with which to eagerly watch my future horizons.  I now have a solid MIRACLE in my arsenal to draw from when I need strength to do battle: when memories come calling, or depression comes crashing down, or fear tries to paralyze me.

My life will, from this day forward, never be the same!