Restoration and Holiness, Part II: “Praise You in This Storm”

On 7 November 2006, I did all the things that had just become a natural part of my overflowing-with-joy, Shekinah-saturated Christian life. I listened to old Maranatha! Music recordings, I took Communion, I reflected on healing and on the comfort of the Holy Spirit, I embraced an album containing a seven -minute rendering of “Amazing Grace”. The joy was inexpressible. I was still talking about it the next day, between classes that I had recently begun at the university. Oh, the professors were grating to the point of persecution even though I didn’t speak directly to them about the things of God, and I knew I faced an overwhelming deadline that evening, but—oh!—the glory of the Lord!

I have almost forgotten that day. I could not help but forget, considering what happened that night. All that joy and peace, every drop of calm and contentment, seemed to have evaporated in the spiritual crisis I experienced on 8 November 2006.
Detail-oriented though I am, especially in writing, I have made a commitment before the Lord never to discuss the specifics of what happened that night. It is not edifying, and does not lead to forgiveness or peace or restoration. Suffice it to say that the experience cut me through the heart, like a cheese-grater against all that I had ever called faith, hope, and love. I cannot express what happened, but I can describe the results—purely as an important part of this exercise, and only because you, my beloved readers, need to know what I lost in order to understand what the Lord is now restoring.

Day by day after that, I thought that perhaps I could wake up in the morning to find that I had been restored. Had I been stronger, or known what was coming, or put on the Armor of God, perhaps that would have been the case. Instead, I languished. One of the first things to disappear was my physical health. My voice was so strained by the effort of speaking around the pain in my heart that I developed a hoarseness that lasted for months. Tears would have brought sweet relief, at least for ten minutes—but my ability to weep over this tragedy had somehow been shattered. I could scream, I could allow the pent-up frustration to come out in anger, but I could not cry—very, very unlike me. I’ve since used this as a diagnostic of sorts: if I was still able to let tears come, I knew I was fundamentally all right, no matter how great the pain. I slept and woke, ate and attended classes, but without fervor or enthusiasm. During that time, I developed a knee bleed due to Coumadin complications and had to use crutches for a few weeks. In the past, I had always sailed through medical difficulties because I knew that the Lord was with me and that His promises as set forth in Scripture were always mine to cling to. You’d think that something as comparatively simple as a knee bleed would have caused me to immerse myself in Him, forget whatever crisis had hitherto stood in my way, and begin dancing before Him again as soon as I could set down my crutches.

But, you see, my dear readers, I was far past that point. As November gave way to December and Christmas plans, I allowed the fear and anguish and bitterness in me to fester and grow, like so much mould on a loaf of once-fresh bread. A weed you can at least pluck out, allowing your crop to flourish—but I was afraid the sin in my life could never be plucked up and out, but that if any part of this “bread” was to be salvaged at all, there would have to be a lot of systematic bread-removal involved…

January of 2007 brought with it an intriguing new course, innocuously called Survey of British Literature. To my professor, this meant that we were to survey the Existentialist writings of one Samuel Beckett. My precious, beloved readers, no matter what you believe, may I please take this opportunity to implore you, from the bottom of my heart, not to even consider reading a play entitled ENDGAME? It is fraught with terror and chaos to the point of being evil. And because my memory has always been unusually vivid and detailed, I could not banish snatches of dialogue and script direction from my thoughts for nearly five months. Every night, just as I was preparing for bed, that horrifying play would burrow into my consciousness, with all the attending chaos and confusion. By this time, as you’ll know if you read Part I, I had been filled with the Holy Spirit for four years, so I should have realized that this required some good, strong spiritual warfare—”resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). But as I lay there resisting the urge to scream in terror, to cry out for help that I was no longer sure how to request, the closest I could come was occasionally whispering, “Jesus, help me…”

But would He? You must understand that this was no ordinary attack, no trifling battle. Not only did I feel unable to come against Satan, but I truly struggled to even consider coming into God’s presence through prayer and worship. The Bible, which had always provided such comfort, now caused my heart to ache for what I so longed to have again—that glorious friendship with the Friend of sinners. I remember lying awake one morning and listening to an audio rendering of I Samuel, a book that had always brought me joy in the past because I saw the Lord’s glory and presence in those majestic accounts involving Samuel’s service and the restoration of the ark of the covenant to the Israelites. This time, though, what I found were passages about David and Saul. Was I like Saul? Were other Christians like David? Was I, without intending to, harming other Christians, or the Gospel of Christ, in my conduct? It was at that point, I think, that I stopped trying to attend church, stopped seeking altogether–very difficult when God’s presence is all you need, all you have ever needed. I felt that my sins so separated me from the Savior that, somehow, since I should have known better from the beginning, that I could not ask Him to cleanse me. I wondered during those days—oh, how I wondered! I shan’t spell that out for you, but you can probably guess what I may have questioned.

Oh, the Lord tried to bring me again into His presence—He did! Seven times, He called me; seven times, I said, “I am not worthy”, and continued my own way. Not a figure of speech—I counted those calls after the Lord set me free. I remember one time listening to a beautiful allegory by one Dennis Jernigan; the holy, loving, precious presence of the Lord came and filled the room with such strength and power that I could only bow before Him in repentance. I’m now convinced that, had I carried that mercy with me, I could have been freed that night, but I didn’t–and so I continued to wander. I have always prayed, before and since traveling that desert, that the Lord Jesus would use any and all of my experiences to encourage or help others. If you are reading this in a blur of pain, if you are under any kind of spiritual duress, if you love Jesus but feel so unworthy that you, too, can’t find it in you to come into His presence, if you are in turmoil or fear, know that you aren’t alone. Know that you aren’t alone, and know, too, that our Lord loves you and that He is waiting for you to return to Him fully. Ask Him to set you free, and then abandon this post in favor of seeking His face. Draw near to Him and know that He will draw near to you. This post can wait.

Well, this went on for nearly six months—8 November 2006-26 April 2007. Then, Seminarian Sister received a word from the Lord, called to give me God’s gentle chastisement, and then faded into the background again. I have seldom seen the gifts of the Spirit used so appropriately; in an era in which people sometimes misuse what they don’t fully grasp in the Lord, Seminarian Sister knew exactly what she was doing. Then, Hannah did something that melted my fear and bitterness entirely—she invited me to church. Beneath her tender words was an invitation from the Lord, the last of many, many gentle calls to repentance—”Come home, come home. / Ye who are weary, come home. / … O sinner, come home!” First came the peace, then the joy… But it was when those tears began to fall at long, long last that I knew I had truly been set free. Ever since that time, a special way of taking Communion and the old Integrity worship chorus “He Is the King” have both taken on new, joy-filled significance.

Subsequent months were spent being renewed in my All in All, my First Love. There was so much to rediscover—so much worship music I had bought but never been able to grasp, so many hours remembering and relearning how to pray. There were times on my knees, moments listening for the voice of God. Gone were the chaos and confusion that the enemy had tried to use in pummeling my heart—it was all so wonderful. I spent hours in the Word, reading and rereading Matthew and Luke, Genesis and Psalms. One morning, I read of King Hezekiah and realized that, in many ways, I was much like him—I, too, had been restored and healed of something too great for me and, like Hezekiah, I would write songs of joy for God’s goodness.

And, my dear readers, isn’t that all enough? Wasn’t it sufficient that God had restored me to a relationship with Himself again? Was it not more than enough that He should teach me to pray again, help me to worship again, show me His glory again? Of course it was! So, really, what did it matter that things weren’t really the same after that spiritual crisis? If my wounded heart had been sutured—if, in fact, it almost felt as though I had been given an entirely new heart—then what did it matter that my arms and legs had each sustained multiple fractures? I was alive, so did I really need to concern myself with whether or not I could walk? I was just so grateful to be in Him again that I decided that the rest didn’t really matter. “THE REST” looked something like this:

* I could no longer endure stress. Had my mother and sister been diagnosed with MS in those pre-2006 days, I would have made “Heal Me, O Lord” our family anthem and continued on my merry way; after those days of heartache, though, I nearly shattered under the weight of multiple sclerosis in the family.

* Worship was quieter, just as fervent in heart but not as externally enthusiastic.

* I often found it difficult to discuss the Holy Spirit, even with like-minded Charismatic believers. What if I said something amiss about His gifts or promises?

* No longer was I as bold in proclaiming the Gospel. In fact, I worried for years that if someone approached me and openly asked how to become a Christian, I might no longer have the words—though I would yearn for the ability to articulate Christ’s salvation. Not a good situation.

* I feared that the 2006 crisis, or something like it, might spring up and slice my heart again.

* The walls surrounding my memory, and the gates that allowed only holy and righteous associations in, seemed to have been smashed. As a result, painful memories took up residence among the joyful ones. Although lilies still represented Resurrection Day, certain coffee cups now reminded me strikingly of unhappy dates and times.

* I had a difficult time forgiving anyone—myself as well as other Christians.

* Multi-tasking of any kind was a thing of the past. No longer could I share a meal and a conversation at the same time.

* I don’t believe I trusted the Lord as much as I once did; I spent fewer moments in His presence from day to day.

* Spiritual warfare was no longer something I practiced. It was almost as though I forgot, although the principles of applying the armor of God and coming against the enemy lingered somewhere in my memory banks, just out of reach.

But all of this was something I pushed deliberately into the background. After all, wasn’t dwelling on any lingering brokenness akin to unforgiveness? I now see that what I conceptualized as “dwelling on” a difficult event might actually have led to my healing, but that is a topic for a later post. And besides, wasn’t failure to accept things as they now were bordering on ingratitude? After all, I continued reading Scripture if a little less voraciously, I kept praying, I took Communion daily as a reminder of His grace, I accepted His promises, I allowed Him to use me in ministry, I had been in His manifest glory many times since that spiritual trauma, I now knew with absolute certainty that my name is in the Book of Life and that no one and nothing can separate me from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ my Lord, I could attend church without the condemnation that had formerly plagued me, I was being restored in my relationships with others… And so I did nothing about “the rest”. I relegated all those doubts to a top shelf in a back closet, turned to coping techniques rather than to His healing, and accepted that this was the way that things would always be. I was sadly changed, and that was that.

As the Lord wills and gives me strength, I will continue this project. If He wills, Part III will discuss the turning point of 2013, and Part IV will begin the meat of what has been taking place over the past month.

Addendum: “Praise You in This Storm” is not actually a favorite worship song of mine, but its percussion does mirror something like a storm and its lyrics do express God’s nearness even when we feel that we are losing everything. Much like my situation, those many years ago…

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Restoration and Holiness, Part I: “You Alone”

My precious readers, have you ever felt fatigued, achy, and generally unwell for weeks or months, only to discover that your malady was a vitamin deficiency that an earlier visit to the doctor could easily have solved? I have, though what I was lacking was neither Vitamin B nor a good, healthy prescription for missing iron. For years, I have endured spiritual anguish that I did not realize I was carrying—certainly, I didn’t think anything could be done about it. Now, though, the Lord has promised to heal it, to restore me to what He had provided immediately after I received His Holy Spirit. I am not entirely healed, freed, or restored yet, but I see what He is doing, I know what He will do, and I thought it might be a joyful thing to inform my readers of what is taking place. Then, too, this will provide a bit of background as to why I haven’t been blogging over the past few months. This story will take some time to tell, so I plan to break it up into a few parts. If the Lord wills, I will continue recounting the glorious events contributing to my restoration—if the Lord wills, if the Lord wills, IF THE LORD WILLS! Time, experience, and I trust a measure of maturity have taught me that making haphazard plans without seeking God’s will and guidance only leads to collapsing projects. Here, then, is Part I:

First, a word about dates, and a bit of spiritual background. Early in my Christian life, only a few months after receiving the baptism, I read Ezekiel for the first time and discovered that Ezekiel seemed to remember and record the date on which each of his visions, words from the Lord, or other experiences of God’s glory took place. I loved the underlying principle—that everything the Lord did for us was worth remembering in vivid, exquisite detail—and so I determined from that point onward to do what Ezekiel did. And so, if numbers could be written in uppercase, all dates would be so written from now on.

I became a Christian in my heart, before the Lord, just prior to taking Communion on 24 December of a year that is too precious to fling about the Internet. I was four years old, but—oh!—my heart vowed to follow Jesus from that day on, even if I didn’t fully comprehend everything in Scripture. On 25 March two years later, shortly before my sixth birthday, I made a public profession of the faith I had long held in my heart. Then, between first and second grade, I was introduced for the first time to the prophet Samuel. Now, I didn’t know exactly what Samuel’s commitment to the Lord meant, but I knew that I was like him in a few ways: Hannah had dedicated him to the Lord before he was born, and my mother had dedicated me to the Lord by the time I was a week old; Samuel stayed in the tabernacle before the Lord and, while I couldn’t very well spend the night and take my meals in my grandfather’s tiny Methodist church, my heart longed to do the same; Samuel heard from and loved the Lord from earliest childhood and followed Him for the rest of his life, and I was fully convinced that I would do the same. Much, much later, I learned that the name for Samuel’s way of life was “Nazirite” (see Num. 6), but I had no vocabulary for it at the age of seven, so I simply said in my heart one day, “Lord, I will serve You like Samuel did.” I cling to that commitment; it’s an Old Testament law with many, many New Testament principles. I don’t abstain from wine or keep my hair to knee-length like the Nazirite men and women of the Old Covenant, but I do devote my life to studying His Word, to worship, and to prayer, and have asked the Lord to take all of my life—all of it!—and use it for His glory. That’s what the Numbers 6 regulations were teaching, and what we Christians can apply in this season of His grace—the need to fully serve and devote ourselves to Him.

So, those were my foundations—and, trust me, there is a point to all of this. I made and kept that commitment in the following years as best as I knew how, but drifted away at times and succumbed to many a tempest along the way. There were days when I forgot that Jesus is my all, days when I did not allow Him to comfort me, days when thoughts of the cross instilled feelings of guilt and condemnation rather than the love and sorrow that now fill my soul—love for His gracious gift, sorrow for my sin, but now no longer condemnation. Now, all of this changed in Two Thousand Two—I told you, uppercase dates!—when I really began seeking Him again. I pursued the things of God as a result of being in the midst of the truest, most profound evil I had ever really experienced—a public school humanities course that was actively teaching idolatry and witchcraft. But even when that class ended, my heart kept seeking—the Gospels, Revelation, the first five books of Scripture—everything was now so much more meaningful.

Then, on 17 August 2002, I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Time does not avail me to describe all that He did on that day, to discuss His gifts, what I received then and what I received much later, but I will say that my life has never been the same since receiving His indwelling. You see, it isn’t about His gifts—though they are beautiful. Having the Holy Spirit is more than prophesy and prayer language, miracles and healings. It is about His day-by-day, constant comfort. It is about having such glorious wisdom in reading God’s Word, about feeling so often that He is there with you as you read it. It is about knowing that our Lord and Savior will never leave nor forsake you, All else aside, it is about a personal, joyful walk, about His comfort and a newfound knowledge of His grace, and about His power and especially His strength in proclaiming the Gospel.

Late that evening, after the passion and joy of that experience in the Holy Spirit had turned to the calmest possible peace, the stillest of still waters, I said something in prayer that I will never forget. It was almost a covenant, a surrender beyond what I could have grasped at the time. I said, “Lord, from now on, I will never want anything except Your glory. You will always be enough for me, and I will serve You as though nothing else matters.”

I did not understand the ramifications. I did not see at that tender “baby Christian” age that this meant the end of all the world ever considered happy and fulfilling. I knew, but I did not know, that all my struggles from that point forward would primarily be focused, at their root, on spiritual attacks. I could not have put into words what I now know to be true—that people can insult anything from my appearance to my intellect to my status as a Braille reader without it having much of an impact on me, but that I have been known to crumble if but one word is insinuated against the particular way I serve the Lord. I did not realize that, years later, a good friend and sister in Christ would ask me, “If your health is good, your family is also in good health, your house isn’t on fire or flooded, your studies are going well, your friends and family are all at peace, your guide-dog is such a blessing, your financial status is good, and you have fulfilling activities in your life, why aren’t you happy?” I could not have known that I would respond to her, “Because my spiritual life is everything, and without knowing I am at peace in that one area, everything else is vanity of vanities. Everything with Him, nothing without Him.” Words could not have expressed at that time the depth to which I meant that commitment, but it was there, it was real, and it has remained central to everything I do.

Thus much of my complete-surrender commitment. Now, about those lovely, clean, innocent years between 2002 and 2006. I asked the Lord to help me understand and memorize Scripture, and received more wisdom and ability than I could possibly have imagined. I knew, I loved, I delighted in those Scriptures. Each time I read the Gospels, my relationship to Jesus Christ was strengthened in a way I have attempted to write about, but which cannot be penned. Trust me—I just completed this exercise, and I think I’ve just about loosened the backspace and delete keys on my poor laptop! There was worship music always, and I immersed myself in everything from Don Moen to Michael W. Smith. I knew—oh, I knew!—the Holy Spirit, and I talked about Him constantly. If God told me to do something, I simply said so—there was no hemming and hawing about what other Christians might think, whether or not they were continuationists, or how this might impact my relationship with them.

At the moment, everything from armchair protector covers to ceiling fans has important associations for me. The same principle applied then, but the associations were only ever glorious. Now, I sometimes avoid eating both beef stew and chicken noodle soup because they carry connnotations of heartache. At that time, though, every food item, every article of clothing, every medication and piece of furniture and technological component and satchel and timepiece and cassette player and plant—everything!—either had no associations or filled me with joy. That old, worn-out computer chair from 1999? Why, I had sat in it while singing a song by Don Francisco. A thick piece of manila paper intended to be fit into the Perkins Brailler? It reminded me of a small miracle in which the Lord demonstrated His power. And every day was like this—every thought, every moment, every hour. It was all prayer without ceasing.

Were there difficult times? Oh, you must believe there were! For three months, I underwent painful procedures and an eventual surgery as the result of a hemorrhagic ovarian cyst. Sometimes, people said things that threatened what I knew in the Lord. Most of the time, I could pray against these, but even if I couldn’t, the disconcerting worries never lasted longer than three months—and I still understood that Jesus loved me. That was another thing—the faith that I had at that point was so filled with innocent hope that I would have thought nothing of sandwiching a song like “Jesus Loves Me” or “Isn’t He Wonderful?” between more “sophisticated” anthems like “I Can Only Imagine” and “Shout to the Lord”. And that sort of worship only intensified in 2004, when we all went through a deep emotional crisis that is too personal to print. I suffered along with everyone else, but in that glorious era, I knew it was nothing that an old-fashioned camp-meeting-style revival service couldn’t restore, or that a three-day fast couldn’t obliterate completely. Nothing is too difficult for our sovereign Lord, and I knew that with absolute certainty from 2002-2006.

Now then, my beloved reader, if you think you’re going to read that 2006 saw me turning to alcohol or some other substance, leaving my faith entirely, straying for some time, and eventually being restored to a love shakier than I had known before, you will be disappointed. None of that happened. Things did change in subsequent months and years, but not in the ways you might imagine. In Part II, if the Lord wills, I will recount what happened and what was apparently lost, the things I longed for but which I never thought I would have again. And then, in Part III, if the Lord so plans for this project, I will talk about 2013 and the beginning of my call to holiness, and 2014 with its promises of total restoration.

Addendum: The title is based on the song “You Alone” by Passion Worship Band—an early song of theirs, and with a delightful, anointed, congregational sound. I love part of the opening verse: “You have / Given me more than I could / Ever have wanted and I want / To give You my heart and my soul.” I discovered it in mid-2003 and immediately embraced it as mirroring my commitment of 2002.