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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