“Steady My Heart”

Back in 2012, I decided that I desperately needed a guide-dog to further my independence and enrich my travel experience. In August of that year, I was introduced to Natasha—and she has been a joy and delight to me. However, the actual training experience was difficult. I faced challenges with cherished friends, persecution from instructors and students, condescension at the church I attended during that time, severe sleep deprivation, and a constant fear of failure, all of which led to a period of extended melancholy once I returned home.

But I have written about this. Both on Epinions and on this blog, I have exhausted myself and my readers by dissecting everything that ever went wrong at The Training Center. I have wept and whined and whimpered over institutional food, accommodations, and treatment for so long that I had nearly forgotten the many blessings that the T.C. era held. Now, I believe that the Lord has laid it on my heart to elaborate upon all the blessings of that time. This will be the next step in my healing from traumatic memories—from the spiritual crisis of 2006 as well as from the anxiety and depression of 2012. Following, then, is the post I should have written years ago—all that the Lord did, both in great ways and smaller, to fill my heart with love for Him and for His servants during that month at the Training Center. Quite obviously, the blessing of my guide-dog was a great one—everything from learning the fundamentals of guide-work and of situation-specific commands to the laughter she brought during play, bonding, etc. So, all of that goes without saying. I’m actually here to discuss what the Lord did in a purely spiritual sense through and in the midst of the trials—the rainbows following every storm, His peace and promises illuminating my darkest night.

The day before I was to leave, I had dinner at an Italian restaurant. At the time, I could never have guessed that this cuisine would form a motif of sorts while I was in training, coming to represent comfort and consolation. At that evening’s meal, Naomi, Jedidiah, and Hannah busied themselves for a few minutes in taking some last-minute pictures, so I found some worship music to listen to. Actually, “worship music” is an understatement. What I found on my iPod was a seven-minute song in a foreign language—though, shamefully, I do not know exactly which one. I have music in Dutch, German, Afrikaans, Swahili… and without a good reference point, I’m really not sure what I was listening to. I do know that the song was congregational in nature and highly anointed, and that I have never been able to find it since. When you have over ten thousand songs on your iPod and ten thousand more media files besides (sermons, audio Bibles, etc.), some of your content tends to get lost in the SHUFFLE!—pun intended… The Lord will help me to find that song in His plan, His will, and His timing. Meanwhile, I will treasure it as a blessing for that season.

When I arrived at Center headquarters, I was met by a few things that filled my heart with joy. One, and perhaps the simplest, was an enormous, blue, velvet husband pillow with a small pocket for things like a voice recorder—or a remote control, if creativity has forsaken you. Immediately, I saw the potential of this pillow—to hug during homesick times, to use as an enveloper when in times of worship, and as a sound barrier against other students’ chatter and electronics. Just prop it up correctly so you have a wall and a nightstand on one side and a huge chair-back of a pillow on the other and—voila!—sweet, silent dreams. The pillow seemed to have been made for me, so much so that I tracked one down as soon as I got back home and have cherished it ever since. Then, there were the other touches of home. Dove soap in the bathroom, much like the very kind I had brought, baked zitti al forno for dinner that first night, iced tea available on demand… All of these small gestures allowed me to feel at ease and almost served as confirmation that I was at the correct training school.

My dorm room was two doors down from that of one of the instructors. Across from my room was the laundry facility, and many evenings I was treated to the tranquil hum of the dryer as students did their weekly washing. Just a few paces down the hall was the door leading outside–a quick escape during visiting and off-campus hours!, and a less tedious way for Naomi and Hannah to make their way into the building. One afternoon, the school’s director explained that she had actually assigned rooms with much careful thought–one student needed a room with amplification equipment attached to the telephone, another had had several guide-dogs and didn’t need to be so close to an instructor… What no one could have anticipated is that the school’s two wings came to take on more personal characteristics–there was the Quiet Wing and the Social Wing, which often had loud music blaring from one of its rooms. I was at the most silent end of the Quiet Wing. And, no, I do not believe that the arrangements were solely a director’s doing. The director may have known that this would be a good placement for me based on external factors, but only the Lord could have known how much I would come to cherish the silence that that particular placement afforded.
That first evening, we were all presented with our leashes. These are not ordinary leather leashes—you can’t buy them in a pet store. Later, we were given dog booties, feeding bowls and measuring cups, grooming supplies, treat pouches and, of course, our dogs’ individually-constructed harnesses. With each piece of equipment, I felt more and more like a potential graduate, a guide-dog handler, an independent woman, a non-cane traveler. It was like taking so many steps up a steep yet scenic mountain.

Although I did not have extensive opportunities to use the Center’s amenities, my month-long place of residence did feature a computer room, a library of Braille and audio books—including a teaching series on the New Testament!—a music room, a silence-filled living room that was seldom occupied and featured the most comfortable of sofas, and a coffee machine whose beverages, though not very tasty, warmed my heart on emotionally-chilly mornings. Moments spent in these places felt so much like home away from home and even afforded occasional opportunities for worship.

Neither did I get the chance to spend two, three, and four hours in Bible study and worship as I do now. Nevertheless, I clung to my heavenly Father in every way possible. Part of our daily training took place in a small town forty-five minutes away from the Center’s headquarters. What better way to use an hour and a half than to hold in my heart “In Your Presence, O God” or songs about Communion, or to read Luke and I Corinthians and Revelation? Then, too, there was a lot of waiting involved while other students worked with their dogs—more reading! Many of the students became curious, and few things during that time gave me greater delight than to explain exactly what I was reading—to demonstrate tangibly that these words of Scripture are breath and life to me. Now, most of the instructors were less than thrilled with my reading choice—they indicated to me that they thought my carrying a two-pound book bordered on a waste of that right arm of mine and implied in their conduct toward me that they would have liked it if I had spent those round-trips chatting or listening to their music. But…

Then, there was Student Intern. She was a treasure, a gem, a jewel. In Matthew 10, Jesus said, “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward, and he who receives a rightous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is My disciple, assuredly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” Well, part of this intern’s service did include furnishing all of us students with water, coffee, etc., following our work sessions—it was just was just something she and some of the instructors did. But Student Intern was far more than an instructor-in-training. I’ll never forget the days she saw my distress and talked with me about church, about having a gentle heart and being a fruitful tree, about how well Natasha and I were doing—especially on the days I feared we might not graduate, much less that we were actually doing well. Difficult though it may be to imagine, we had no Christian radio stations at this institution—I know this because Student Intern spent a tireless half-hour carefully tuning the radio in my room and listening to everything she found in hopes of presenting me with some glimpse of CCM. In a season in which most of my instructors referred disdainfully to my Bible as “that BOOK!”, Student Intern sometimes retrieved it from my room if I forgot it, usually with a sort of sad compassion in her voice as she said, “Here’s your Bible—I’ll just put it over here…” On days when she saw me frantically typing on one of the Center’s computers, she must have deduced that I was doing something urgent (indeed, I was usually writing E-mails begging for prayer), and on these occasions she would be uncommonly compassionate about pulling me away. “Lunch in five minutes… Are you coming?” Since I knew that this was not really an optional meal, but a training experience and sometimes a time for a mini-lesson, I would accompany her, only to find that she deliberately placed me at a table with other Christians. Cold, refreshing water.

So long as I am writing about servants of God, I cannot exempt the housekeeping staff from my pen-and-paper portrait of life at the Center. I met the woman who cleaned most of our rooms once and she was beyond kind. Later, I found that it was she who had placed the husband pillows in our rooms. Every evening, I tend to spread spiritual things out all around me, topping the whole bed with reminders and symbols of His glory. On any typical evening, I might cover myself with some great piece of cloth representing His covering, hold a print Bible in a worn case, keep a Braille Bible lying next to me, and have two or three prayer cloths pinned to various pillows. I carried on that tradition at the Center—the pillows, of course, being housed in my own cases, cases that were more than able to withstand my safety-pinning efforts. No, I never once damaged Center property for the sake of my spiritual reminders. In the early days of training, I used to make an effort to keep everything as tidy as possible—both so the housekeeping staff wouldn’t have to, and so that I could keep personal things in the Lord between myself and Him. One day, though, I ran out of time to perfect my surroundings and just left everything as it was. When I returned that afternoon, I not only found everything put in order, but my Bible and the other things I treasured had been handled with such careful deliberation, yet with such evident joy and artistry, that I almost wondered whether the woman who had been in to clean had known what everything was and felt spiritually about it the way I did. I can’t explain what she did—it was just tiny, almost-imperceptible nuances. For example, I believe in placing Bibles on top of other objects rather than covering them up—no journals on top of a stack of Bibles! This kind woman had stacked everything together, with my Bible on top, just the way I would have done it. Her folding mirrored mine, as did some of her other arrangements. Pillows with prayer cloths affixed to them were placed up-front and center, propped against pillows without handkerchiefs and safety-pins decorating their surfaces—things like that. “She saw this kind of thing,” you will insist. “She saw what you did and she replicated it.” How do you explain, then, the fact that I had never arranged anything like that while I was at the Center, but had kept everything hidden away where she wouldn’t have found it unless she was very, very unethical? And, even if she had found it, how do you explain those specific arrangements, folds, placements? From that point on, I stopped being quite so maniacal about keeping everything in perfect order, taking the housekeeping staff’s services as a blessing from God and something that, really, I had no time to do myself unless I was willing to get up even earlier than I already did—and for what? To prove myself? And every day that I left things in slight disarray, I returned to my room to see the same beautiful arrangements of everything that was precious to me. That child of God knew—she knew.

There was a little Italian restaurant nearby. Its name is irrelevant, but its asparagus-stuffed raviolis, complete with smoked mozarella, are not. Again, we harken back to the Italian food of the evening before I departed. These raviolis came to symbolize everything being right in the world of Ready-Writer. You see, part and parcel of my experience at the Center were the profound feelings of displacement and disorientation. I do not exaggerate when I write that I felt like a person who had been rendered suddenly unconscious, only to wake up in a foreign country—though which one would not become apparent for days. All I knew was that, all around me, a foreign language was being spoken, unusual cuisine—emotional, spiritual, and, if I’m being honest about the institution’s cooking, tangible—had been set before me, alien customs surrounded me, and I had no idea what to do in such an unfamiliar culture. Actually, if I had found myself deported to Germany or Thailand or Kuwait, I might have felt more at home more quickly. Everything at the Center, from the concrete floors to the isolation to the new ways of governing my life with Natasha to the mistreatment of other students that I saw daily was entirely estranged from the way of life I had always known. And so, I did things to center myself and to remind myself of who I still was in Christ Jesus—again, if I’m being honest with myself, I was afraid I would lose that passion for the Gospel. And so, I journaled. I described the bracelet that held spiritual value, talked about the other students and how God could use them, discussed my love for our Lord, filled entire ten-minute recorded journaling sessions with my interpretations of Scripture… And then, there were the minor earthly blessings. I kept hummus in my room, used frankincense-and-myrrh soap, and wore a waist pack with a little cross-shaped keychain dangling from it. I listened, day by day, to the recordings of family members—both those that they sent while I was at the Center and those from much earlier times. When Naomi and Hannah came to do infusions—the Center’s nurse wasn’t licensed to infuse that specific medication!—they always brought along a chai, which I held in my heart and sipped with all possible deliberation just before bed on those precious nights. When I took my meals with the other students, I usually made sure to bring at least one thing from my own supply—I would eat the rubbery spaghetti, but I brought a frapuccino to go with it, or occasionally I simply brought my own full meal. All of this somehow became encompassed in asparagus-and-smoked-mozarella-stuffed raviolis. That dish came to represent all possible gentleness, peace, tranquility, and calm, for I only ordered it when I knew that, somehow, I would survive my travels “abroad”—even if I never really assimilated into the culture.

Earthly blessings, those, but provided by God nevertheless. Another string of joys lay in that ubiquitous recorder of mine. I remember wandering the halls one day and hearing the dryer in the laundry room. Immediately, I ran to my own dorm room, retrieved the digital voice recorder from the pocket of that exquisite husband pillow, and made my way as quickly as possible back to the laundry facility, only to find an instructor there. Of course, I then had to explain that to record the dryer was to record themes of purity and wholesomeness… In so doing, a profound connection was established—if only for a time. Then, there were those chimes. They hung near the door of one of the Center’s other training facilities, reminding me of the dancing, singing chimes at home which I had always referred to as the Northern Lights for their beauty. Oh, I saw to it that Student Intern recorded the campus chimes! And when Hannah and Naomi came, as medical necessity dictated, they always had a digital voice recorder with them—Bible passages, songs, prayers, old books… But the recorder wasn’t always merely for recordings. Once, my recorder’s alarm went off while I was in the van and, while I fiddled with the machine in an attempt to silence it, the entire backseat was treated to a minute and a half of Paul Wilbur’s nine-minute rendering of “In Your Presence, O God”. Yes, that recorder was a blessing.

So was the instructor’s radio. Not always—certainly not! I never did develop a passion for the popular and hard-rock music that seemed to run rampant during that time. But there was one day when, while browsing through stations, the instructor accidentally stopped on Christian music. She didn’t keep it there long, but I had heard thirty seconds of Kari Jobe’s “Steady My Heart”, and that was enough. I had not heard Christian music on any radio in weeks; that briefest of intervals helped me to see that I was not alone, not forsaken in a place in which even my church attendance was an anomaly. Then, on 17 August, the day I had received the Holy Spirit ten years earlier, Instructor of Mine decided to listen to country music. When a Christian-oriented song, entitled “I Saw God Today”, played, she made no move to change it. I think it must have been the Holy Spirit keeping her hands on the steering wheel, because her silence and failure to change the station were out-of-character for her. And so, I sat back and let references to the things of the Lord wash over me, filling some of the emptiness I felt and lighting up the darkness around me.

But do you know what might just have been greater than the radio and the recorder? The rain! I was the only student who relished walking in it, who cherished every raindrop and every clap of thunder. One day, when the others decided to seek refuge from the rain, I requested special permission to go out and work with Natasha in the downpour. Instructor of Mine brought an umbrella, under whose shelter I was a very reluctant participant. Personally, I think that getting soaked—not sprinkled upon, but so drenched that you need to change your clothes and wring out your wet outfit—is one of life’s greatest pleasures and never worth missing out on for the sake of convention. As it was, I did need a towel when I arrived back at the Center. You know why this was so special? Because I experience in the rain and snow what most of you experience when you see a rainbow, or a fabulous sunset, or a towering tree, or the moon and stars—I witness God’s majestic creation. So, that rain-walk was a heart-saturating moment for me. As was the time I tripped and fell, believe it or not. I was not paying attention during one of Natasha’s supervised work sessions, and sleep-deprivation caused me to stumble over my own feet. I wasn’t hurt—a tad bit scraped up, perhaps, but not seriously injured. And do you know what I thought even as my shoes-on-asphault contact gave way to knees-on-graveled-dirt? “Oh, yes, kneeling before Him—always the place to be. And this soil, now running through my fingers and down my shins, is yet one more moment of His creation. What a wholesome fall this is!”

From tangibles to God’s creation… what comes next? Do you know, my beloved readers? The things of the Lord!—they are what spring from this journal of joy. You see, He was so close to me during that time. Since I didn’t have hours to read and study His Word, the moments I did have became more precious, and I found myself studying each verse in more minute detail. In a month in which church attendance and especially Communion were rare and elusive, I came to delight in both in a new way. Actually, I take private Communion every evening—then, now, and as long as the Lord convicts me to do so—but grape juice was scarce. Having real Communion elements—grape juice rather than water or sugary grape drink—took on new meaning and significance, as did songs about remaining strong in Jesus, staying true to who He had made me, and even a few worship anthems about Communion itself. John 1:43-50 wrapped itself around my heart then and I have never lost sight of it, even to this day. Like opportunities to take Communion, fellowship with other believers was rare, so I delighted in it all the more when it did happen—all someone had to do was mention that his church had a special outreach ministry, and my heart filled with joy at having found a brother in Christ.

Oh, the joy! When I couldn’t read the Word due to time constraints, I read memoirs like DANCING WITH MAX, an excellent book about grace in which the author describes the joys and blessings of raising a son on the autism spectrum—more a Christian devotional about patience and love, though, than a typical disability/parenting memoir. Or that book called CELEBRATE JESUS, relating the stories behind many common praise and worship choruses. Not for one moment, not for one millisecond, did the Lord ever forsake me—I always knew His presence, His nearness. And in it all, even during the worst of trials, there was joy, joy, joy! Joy so great and extensive that people always asked me why I was in such an unrestrainedly enthusiastic mood. Joy that elevated simple pleasures to lofty heights. Joy that caused me to cry out, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” at every turn. “Hosanna” in both senses of the word—”hallelujah, praise Him”, yes, but also, “O, save!” Keep me safe, for You are able…

Then, there were His gifts. You know, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are always given according to God’s will, and often distributed according to need. There may be more need for the gift of healing in a place of illness, for example, than for a person to only pray in the Spirit—but there may be more need for the gift of tongues than healing in, say, a country that has never heard the Gospel, if some of the inhabitants are to hear God’s Word proclaimed in a language that they can understand (see Acts II). The same thing applies to the gift of discernment—or, as I Corinthians XII calls it, “the discerning of spirits”. All I know is that, halfway through most meals, I often sensed that there was something spiritually amiss in my surroundings, and particularly as it pertained to a specific faculty member. There was a profound sense of oppression, and it was often at these times that I felt I needed to pray more fervently or to leave the premises. Later, I learned a bit more about some of the circumstances surrounding this faculty member and, sure enough, it included condescention and emotional mistreatment of another student, as well as some spiritual confusion. God had been protecting me and showing me how to pray. Discernment in action!—and I was so very grateful for it. But, you know, that gift isn’t given only to protect us from spiritually-compromising situations—it can sometimes be used to help us see our brothers and sisters in Christ, or to simply see things a little more clearly through His eyes. During the third week of training, all of us traveled to the state’s largest and most populated city. While strolling sidewalks and making my way under the overhangs of various shops, I inhaled the fragrance of spices and leather goods, exotic foods and beautifully unique knickknacks and suddenly began to imagine the people behind all those doors. I prayed for many of them, rejoiced at the thought of those who knew of our wonderful Lord, and really prayed for the Lord to sustain and fill those whom I thought might be feeling empty or despondent. Time and again, I found myself thinking, “Oh, you behind that metal-and-glass frame, whoever you are, Jesus loves you so much!” It was a glorious experience, and one I am actually hard-pressed to describe adequately. More of His grace.

And His holiness! I remember one day being given exquisite, glorious news from Hannah and Naomi. Then, due to a very minor injury that nevertheless precluded Natasha and I working together, I was given the day off. Off, to rest and sleep more deeply than I had in weeks. Off, to allow worship music to float through my heart. Off, to take a meal in semi-solitude. And especially, as all of this was going on, to find that Isaiah ch. Vi, was penetrating all those barriers I had established and melting my heart—every word about the seraphim and their cries of “Holy!” That time of having Isaiah’s awesome vision impressed upon my heart stayed with me, even until I arrived home, and during those first few days of re-orienting myself to home life, I found worship music that bespoke His holiness. Without it, you know, I could never have survived…

What am I saying? I’m saying that God has the power, and the love, mercy, compassion, and faithfulness, to truly work all things together for good for those who love Him. I’m saying that, despite the anguish that prevailed during and after my time at the Center, God never did abandon me—and He will never abandon you either, no matter what you may be going through. “Even when it hurts,/ Even when it’s hard, / Even when it all just falls apart…” Then we all must run to Him, the Binder of our wounds and “healer of [our] scars”, trusting in His protection and provision even when we neither see His face nor hear His voice nor feel His presence. His love endures forever—after many long years of wondering why my time at the Center had to culminate in so prolonged a period of heartache, I know that He was, is, and always will be my Rock, my Deliverer, my place of refuge, my strength, my song, and my salvation. “And that my soul knows very well…”

Addendum: Although I have been creating a whirlwind of worship music that must resemble a mixed metaphor to some of you, the title for this piece is taken from that thirty-second clip of a song with which the Lord so richly blessed me. Find Kari Jobe’s “Steady My Heart” on the album THE ACOUSTIC SESSIONS.

Restoration and Holiness, Part V: “Take My Life and Let It Be”…

Back in 2004, I was researching Christian music when I came upon a little review on epinions.com. The reviewer, a delightfully humble woman, was describing music that her children had found enjoyable–an album that I had had when I was very young, but which had been destroyed through repeated run-ins with uncooperative FisherPrice tape players. Well, I enjoyed the review so much that I decided to buy the music–for old time’s sake, don’t you know?–and, I must say, I found the reviewer herself so beautiful in the Lord that I began checking Epinions daily for anything new she might have posted. I was going through some difficult external circumstances and seeing other Christians loving Jesus was a rare thing at that time, so I thought that reading this wonan’s writings was one of the most enriching experiences I could possibly hope to have. CindyJean, if you ever stumble upon this blog through some inexplicable series of circumstances, know that although I never got to know you personally, the Holy Spirit used you for two-and-a-half years to salve the lonely, aching heart of at least one person.

Well, following that exposure to Epinions, I began to wonder whether that community had other like-minded individuals, or brilliant writers on other subjects, or both. I did some digging and found countless reviews, essays, poems, recipes, and other snatches of joyful life. That community was home in 2004, when I first began investigating it–it was filled with heart and warmth and sincerity, all characteristics that I felt were lacking in my own life. I wanted to be a part of that community–I did!–but I tend to take life rather seriously, so I didn’t join until 2007. By then, I knew the site’s policies, culture, prominent members, and most popular or discussed reviews inside out. I had come up with a user ID months before even considering joining, and when it actually came time to set down my personal information, I was practically considering myself a member of the community.

One of the first things I had to do, of course, was to befriend all of those whose lovely writing I had come to know. In order to do this, I had to write some smashing pieces of my own. I loved books–the printed ones that fill a house with frgrance, but also the Books category–and I admired many of the more prolific reviewers in that category. The best way to hobnob with the elite was to read much of what they were reading. And so, I began to devour books I might never have read before. I developed a high awareness of invisible disabilities through various memoirs, devoured autobiographical sketches of adventurers who had experienced everything from deliberate homelessness to a horrible avalanch, and even tried my hand at reviewing a few best-sellers (at least at that time) like Lisa Genova’s STILL ALICE. I read about Laura Bridgman and Charles Dickens, studied the lives of great philosophers and thinkers, and contemplated the merits of nearly anything I could find on Project Gutenberg from THE ADVENTURES OF MAYA THE BEE to an obscure and much-outdated book of housekeeping hints. Then, too, because many of the reviewers whose acquaintance I wished to make were either teachers or well-read parents, there wasthe whole realm of children’s books to delve into. And did I ever! Schneider Family Book Awards, Newberry Awards, Young Readers’ Choice Awards–I read them all, as well as anything I could find that was entirely unrecognized but showed promise. Some of it I reviewed, the rest I just stored somewhere in my memory banks. Enrichment reading, I called it–not Christ-centered, per se, but certainly capable of expanding the mind.

Then, gradually, Epinions began to fade from my life. First, I ceased reviewingfor a bit; then, when I saw that circumstances would be more condusive to my blogging than to continued activity on Epinions, I wrote a message to my precious community explaining that I would be taking my writing elsewhere. And shortly after that, Epinions.com itself disabled all community activities. Yet, even after my review site had vanished, and with it the need to compose reviews, I continued in reading enrichment works. Oh, some of them disturbed me very much. Was it really necessary for the author of a memoir about exceptional memory strengths to use such invective? Could not the woman who wrote about children’s school lunches have been a bit more… reverent? or was it relevant to her work to insert entire paragraphs that mocked and denegrated the Christian faith? I didn’t see the correlation… And the books for young people, these days! Perhaps that makes me sound old-fashioned, but I could never quite conceive of how children were being taught from third grade on up some of the ideals that authors everywhere seemed to be instilling. It’s all right to lie if you don’t get caught? Keep your problems from parents and teachers? Tolerance may be embraced but true kindness is for whimps? The whole thing made me feel grieved, but I kept on–out of habbit, I suppose, and because lingering brokenness in my own heart kept me from seeing what I was doing. Day-by-day “enrichment” was something to do when I felt too terrified to face the Lord in prayer, or to sit in silence and contemplate His beauty–or when I simply felt too depressed and traumatizzed to do anything save retreat into myself.

Why this long, drawn-out introduction? Because a destination is always sweeter if you have to drive quite awhile to reach it. In other words, there is a point to this ramble, but we’re taking the scenic route today. As we travel along, may I take this opportunity to state most emphatically that the experiences I relate here are not intended to instruct or advise any of my readers, and that whatever you do is probably very rewarding in your own life–don’t stop. However, I have always been very sensitive to life and I have a specific calling, so what applies to me may not necessarily apply to you. Some are called to expand their minds in certain areas in order to relate to a specific group of people; if that is you, then please take everything I sy with a grain of salt.

Now then, back to the multi-part series I began several weeks ago and which I had temporarily abandoned. I left off with 8 May. The Lord had just promised to fill my heart with joy and restore to me all the joy, peace, and servant-hearted obedience I had lost during my eight-year struggle with a small but painful shard of spiritual anguish. I had accepted thse promises joyfully, but had stumbled almost immediately and had nearly decided to give up, feeling that NOW the Lord might never restore me. He had different plans…

The next day, Friday, 9 May, I put my plans to hide and return to a life of unhappiness into action–untentionally, ’tis true, but that is in essence what I did. A trip to the online library, some audiobook downloads, and my plan was well underway. I tore through recording after recording, and in-between those moments, I occupied myself with electronic literature. Many children’s books, a few memoirs, innumerable of bitter and angry words cascading down upon my cracked and weary heart, then swirling about me in a tumultuous whirlwind. It was like deliberately breaking a fast by eating a whole box of those little goldfish crackers.

Much later in the day, when scrap of half-read books lay around my mind in crumpled heaps, the Lord so very gently showed me what I had been doing. Book by book, I realized what I had been filling my mind with all day. And then, there was the most joyful conviction, the most necessary and tender and loving chastening from the Holy Spirit. Why, I had been wasting my time, when I could have been spending it in the Lord. I was running and hiding from Him, and that was not right. Then, too, He had created my memory to be extremely strong–did I not realize that this kind of reading had the potential to stay in my heart and affect me, not for a day or two, but for years to come? In those moments, I remembered a book I had read when I was eight–not evil, exactly, but very morbid–and how, eighteen years later, I had dreamed that I was one of the protagonists and had, in those few hours of sleep, remembered the full text of the 250-page book nearly from start to finish. What if I gave up enrichment reading for a prescribed amount of time–say, one month and ten days–and devoted that time to Him?

My heart fell to its knees in that moment, and I resolved to begin such a time the very net morning. Really, I wasnot expecting much–I knew only that I was to begin a time without enrichment reading and, by extension, without selfishness, anger, bitterness, or despair, inasmuch was humanly possible for me at that time, on 10 May. I would end said timeframe on the evening of 18 June. Such a wonderful groundwork laid, and then those glorious blessings began pouring in–as early as 11 May, to be exact. But that is a story for Part VI… Really, I don’t mean to be dragging this out, but there is so much to say, and it must be told with all the detail it deserves. Parts VI and VII are particularly special, though, so if you’ve been reading this entire series through, be on the lookout for them.

Addendum: From the hymn “Take My Life and Let It Be”. I’ve always been blessed by the version on Christ for the Nation’s album OVERTAKEN.

“And All I Have in You Is More Than Enough”…

My beloved readers, I will return to the series I began–I will. In His will and timing, I hope to continue where I left off. However, I feel it very important to take another detour, back to the day before the Lord began setting me free. 6 May was actually very difficult, but from it sprang a great, enduring, and truly holy lesson. Oh, how great is the ministry of the Holy Spirit!

In these next few remarks, I mean no bitterness–not anymore. I write what I do only to illustrate a point and because there may be people who are going through what I did.

For many years, I had been filled with anguish over the ways in which the Body of Christ was treating me. From church to church, I could not seem to find acceptance or love. Instead, most of the people who greeted me each week were inordinately fascinated by the fact that my Bible happens to be in Braille. How many volumes did it come in? Was it difficult for me to learn to read? Oh, how cute was my little puppy-doggy! And, really, I was just plain “adorable” myself, me and my fascinating Braille. What an inspiration I was! And did I know sign language? Could I sing like a lark, since all people who happen to be blind have exquisite voices–don’t they? Week after week after week. Whenever I asked for prayer during this season, people either told me that I couldn’t possibly have any needs, or focused only on the externals of my life without petitioning God concerning my heart and life in Him. Time and again, those who were closest to me told me to give congregations time, that they would come to see me for who I was eventually. But months, and then years, went by without any change in the questioning. Oh, how I longed to tell them–to explain that, while I do not have an operatic voice, I do love to sing unto the Lord and that my favorite moments of worship involve “Beautiful” and “Arise, My Soul, Arise”. To tell them that, no, I don’t have “so much more insight” because I cannot see, but because I specifically asked God for wisdom in studying His Word–and, oh, by the way, would they like to study Revelation or Ezekiel or even Leviticus with me? I could, in the Lord’s strength, show them passages in those books that would make them fall to their knees and cry out, “Holy is the Lord!” How I yearned for the day when a Braille Bible would be no more appropriate fodder for discussion than, say, a Chinese Christian coming into church with a Chinese Bible. I mean, how many questions about traditional vs. simplified script would said Chinese believer have to answer? I tried going to a pastor, but he, too, said that I should give it more time and that perhaps this question-answering was a sort of ministry. With all due respect, and even in hindsight, I fear I must disagree. It would have been a ministry had I eventually been given the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel, but as it stood, I was merely satisfying curiosity. Besides, there are people who actively involve themselves in disability-rights movements and merge them with ministry far better than I. Joni Eareckson-Tada is among them, and I love what she does, but focusing on my sight to the extent that some of these people were doing had the effect of almost making me feel that they were denying God’s power to heal. Very sad.

Oh, I was bitter–bitter and heart-broken, because all of this was affecting my spiritual life. As I wrote to a group of prayer warrior friends, “If all people see is blindness–if, in fact, that is all that Spirit-filled Christians see, rather than the Holy Spirit, does that mean that He is not dwelling in me as strongly? Am I quenching the Spirit of the Lord?” It was terrible. There were days when I cried out from morning until evening for peace at least between myself and God, days when I bluntly told other Christians that I NEEDED!!!!! prayer, or that their assumptions about my life were misconceptions at best. Nights when I went to bed in tears. Even Sundays when I came to dread church attendance. Where once I had loved my Calvary Chapel, had fought to go there even when transportation was unavailable, had said that I must support this precious church even at a time when they were struggling–now, dragging myself into a congregation that thought I was paradoxically an inspiration and, so I felt, a nuisance, filled me with pain.

My beloved reader, what about you? Do you have a unique set of circumstances that has made you feel abandoned by the churches in your area? Do you suffer from depression or profound anxiety? Are you single in a church filled mostly with well-established families? Are you a caregiver who can’t always make it to church, or who has a hard time keeping commitments with other brothers and sisters in Christ because of your own heavy burdens? Do you feel unwanted or boxed-in? I have a thought for you…

I admit, I was not very gracious. I reached a point of such anger that only our Lord could have softened my heart–but, oh!–He did. He, and only He.

On Tuesday, 6 May, I wrote an anguished letter to the few whom I knew would pray. I selected people from a variety of denominations, mature Christians and younger ones, so I could gain a variety of insights. Then, I poured out my heart in less-than-flattering terms. Over the next week, I received many responses. Some reiterated that I needed to “give it time”. Bible Student, who is also blind, suggested a complex solution that involved gathering all the leaders in the church from the pastor and assistant pastor to ushers, Sunday school teachers, and the leaders of men’s and women’s Bible studies, tell them what I wanted the rest of the church to know, and have them pass it on. Sincere Sister said that she honestly did not know what to make of this–perhaps I was being chastened or taught? This was worded much more kindly, and I had certainly considered the possibility. Sunday School Teacher had a similar view, but added that she knew that God had not forsaken me. It was all so complicated…

But amid all the counsel I received, the Lord Himself showed me all that I needed to know–all that I have ever needed, and what should have been my answer all along. That day as I studied Genesis, I came upon God’s words to Abraham: “Do not be afraid… I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” In that moment, the Lord ministered to my heart that these words were for me, too. I must not be afraid of what others said or did, or how they reacted to me. I must not be ashamed or anguished, for He was and is and always will be my shield, my exceedingly great reward.

What did Abraham do when the Lord spoke these words to him? The next verse states, “But Abram said, “Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless?”” Note the word “BUT”. God had just told Abraham that He everything Abraham would ever need, BUT Abraham wanted more. How many of us feel the same way? I know I did. In the next moment after God gave me that verse, my life became one great BUT. BUT Lord, what will You give me, since my church doesn’t want me to belong to this congregation? Now, God did give Abraham a son, but as I questioned Him–even after He had told me to trust Him and that He was enough–I did not receive anything more. No promise that I would suddenly be embraced with open arms, no assurance that I was aglow enough with the love of God that people would soon cease their blindness-related probings, nothing save a gentle knowledge of His love.

And, really, wasn’t that what I had sought all along? Had I not said during those nights of tear-drenched prayer that I would be content with the way I was treated at church if only I could see and know and remember that the Lord still loved me? And here was my answer.

I didn’t accept it for several days. That promise of Scripture lingered somewhere in the back of my mind, and from time to time I would retrieve it and gaze upon that beauty, my Shield, my exceedingly great reward, my everything. Then one day, I surrendered. I saw that there is nothing, no one, who can compare. That realization was holy beyond words, precious beyond measure.

Do you know what happened yesterday in church? Well, my guide-dog, Natasha, was told that she was such a good BOY, and called a “blind dog”–ignorant responses that would hitherto have made me feel highly denigrated as a person. The man who made these remarks addressed me as a small child, as is his wont. At another time, I would have corrected him on all counts, vainly attempting to keep the frustration out of my voice, and then allowed the encounter to consume my thoughts and erode my peace for the rest of the day. Yesterday, I could say with confidence, “I know who I am in Christ Jesus, and He is all I need. I will not allow the enemy to rob me of my rest, and I will not allow this man’s ignorance to overwhelm me.” What an absolutely glorious place to be in!

My beloved readers, I believe Genesis 15:1 says the same words to each of us. He is your shield, too, everything you will ever need. When you accept that, surrender to Him, and hold fast to Him as your only resting-place and the only One Who can satisfy your every need, then burdens become lighter and the overwhelming cares of this world begin to fall away or, if not, to become much more manageable–even joyful. Where once it mattered so much that I be accepted in my church, it now matters more just to serve God in whatever capacity He desires to use me in. Whereas I was once so troubled by people’s comments about one insignificant external, I’m now more likely to respond to remarks about me being “BLIND!” by singing, “Was blind, but now I see…” Perhaps I can get my interrogator to sing with me, perhaps not–but either way, I will have approached the situation gently and spiritually, resting in who and what He has made me to be without becoming wrapped up in man’s opinions and reactions. Yes, Lord, You are more than enough!

Addendum: I delight in a worship song simply entitled “Enough” “All of You is more than enough / For all of me / For every thirst and every need / You satisfy me with Your love / And all I have in You is more than enough”… This post is based on the rendering by Keynote Communications, on the album ASK FOR THE NATIONS. The only element that that version lacks is the bridge, which my church–together, united, without bitterness!–used to sing: “More than all I want, more than all I need / You are more than enough for me / More than all I know, more than all I can say / You are more than enough”!

For Hannah: Serving High Tea to a LADY!

Precious readers, this will be a bit of a deviation from what I generally post on this blog. However, I tend not to compartmentalize my life, and so this blog—and not three or four blogs scattered about the Interwebs—must suffice for anything I choose to put on it. Besides, I attempt to glorify God in all I do, so I don’t believe that this post will be straying from the principle of the blog itself. Hannah, this piece is dedicated to you… And to a lady, a laydee, a lay-dee, a person who brings her five poodles everywhere with her on purple velvet leashes, and who herself wears purple. At least, that’s our stereotype of a laydee, and it seems that you met one a few weeks ago. Don’t you love it when real incidents merge with a touch of boredom and a hearty dose of imagination? So, I think I’ll write about her… Enjoy, Hannah, and anyone else who may happen upon this post.

Dear Lady Velma,

Yes, I see you. Standing behind the counter of a local coffee shop with Hannah, who served you last time, I see you and your purple outfits floating into our fine establishment. Ordinarily, I don’t work here, but Hannah thought I might be able to help you better than she did last time. I’m sure you recall the day a few weeks ago when you came into this café and requested high tea, but Hannah says that she had nothing to give you. Never fear—I’m here today.

First, some thoughts on semantics. Hannah might well have been able to serve you HIGH tea, for high tea is the evening meal that English farm hands enjoyed during the 1940s and 1950s. Hannah couldn’t have produced a Cornish pastie, but our café does serve sandwiches and crisps that might have sufficed. I believe that what you’re looking for, though, is afternoon. In that case, and for this hour only, you have come to the right place.

Sure enough, you approach the counter, yards and yards of fabric flowing. I wish I had that sort of freedom, Lady Velma—for I’m learning that this is your name. Velma, you say as you introduce yourself. Velma, the wife of a vivacious vicar—oh, how I love that alliteration! And you are a lady, with elegant speech and the most delightful way of again requesting high tea. It’s true that this quick-serve restaurant doesn’t usually serve high tea, but for you, for you, Lady Velma, we can make an exception.

Take a seat—yes, there in the corner where nothing will disturb this elegant moment in your life, this time that you so obviously and desperately need—why? To make sense of something? To enjoy the day? To remember a past time of sentiment? Only you understand the reasons for your request, and it is mine to start some water boiling, not to demand an explanation. You, Lady Velma, just relax and try to ignore the elevator music that is so clearly un-harplike and that therefore probably blends miserably with your concept of ambiance.

And while the water is boiling, I see that you are alone. Perhaps you would prefer to be left with your thoughts, but I cannot know that. So here are some illustrated coffee-table books about English gardens, and here is a delightful book I found on the joys and ideocyncracies of our lovely English language. Oh, and I included a book or two on God’s love and plans because, after all, you are a vicar’s wife and this might be of interest to you, and also because I see a joyful and tender heart beneath the unconventionality you espouse. Perhaps I see it, Lady Velma, because I, too, have my share of quirks and whimsical moments. Oh, one final touch—we couldn’t find a plant or put together a flower arrangement on such short notice, so I think I’ll just prop this picture of a tall, shady, protective-looking tree somewhere in the corner here. I found it in the bookstore section of this, our fine café, and I thought you might enjoy gazing upon it if the books don’t arouse your interest or if you’d prefer to be alone with your own thoughts.

And now for your tea. In a proper home or English tea shoppe, you don’t necessarily get asked what kind of tea you’d like, and you merely specified high tea. Accordingly, I’m bringing out Earl Grey and camomile, so that you might have at least some choice. Pardon the mismatched kiraffes; they are all we could find. But, since I tend to do some things a little unusually myself, I thought I would carry a few pairs of craft scissors with me in that huge purse you may have noticed peeking out from behind the counter. We don’t have any glass cups, so I hope the tiny, intricate, ridged flower shape into which I cut a regular paper coffee cup will suffice. A nice dainty cup for this experience. And I’m hoping that the taller, but likewise flower-cut cups that hold cream, milk, honey, and sugar, with little designs drawn on said cups for good measure, will perfedct the set, for now at least.

Ah, tea. Now for the first course. We don’t have finger sandwiches—no cheese and pickle or watercress or tuna salad or cream-cheese-and-cucumber on pumpernickel, but perhaps our tomato-and-mozarella panini, cut into smaller pieces and arranged ceremoniously on a glass plate, one of the few real dishes we have, will be sufficient. Yes, a panini and some grapes, taken from the fruit cups we keep in a back refrigerator.

And now for a scone. We have many, but you strike me as the type who would enjoy either blueberry or cinnamon. Blueberry—yes, I think that best fits this moment. I do hope you enjoy it, despite our sad and sudden lack of clotted cream. And would you like us to bring out some more tea while we are preparing dessert?

Now, let us see. A tiny square of lemon pound cake, with the slightest drizzle of frosting. And—what else?—some plain cheesecake, a dainty bite or two in keeping with this repast. A chocolate brownie, because every tea event needs a little of that. And a little bit of cinnamon crumb cake. Voila—four culinary delights, a little like the arrangement of petit fours. Please pardon our profiterole shortage—I’m rather fond of those myself and would certainly have served them if I had the faintest idea of how to make them here.

Well, Lady Velma, I hope you enjoyed afternoon tea as much as we enjoyed serving it. Oh, I like your wallet—wherever did you manage to find a plush one with an enormous cotton flower stitched onto it?—but you won’t need it. It was such a joy serving you and, besides, we didn’t have everything that you were necessarily trying to order. No, this one is on Hannah and I…

* * *

And now, my beloved readers, don’t you wish that customer service was still that elaborate? Don’t you wish that somewhere, some Mom-and-Pop shop would cater to people that way? If only we could do it all for people, including those eccentric types, who darken our doors! Hannah, you did the right thing, but I felt I had to get this “afternoon-tea” service out of my system. And, if any barristas happen to be reading this, perhaps you’ll feel better about shrugging your shoulders and complying with the next person who orders a grande, decaf, non-fat salted-caramel mocha with two extra pumps of vanilla, a pump-and-a-half of peppermint, a sprinkling of nutmeg atop the inevitable whipped cream, and a drizzle of chocolate.

Restoration and Holiness, Part IV: “Jumping Up and Down, Shout Hosanna!”

Oh, how I have longed to pen this fourth part of the wondrous things the Lord has begun, and will continue, in me!—and what a delight it is to do so now. I began Part I on 21 May, though I did not publish it then. This means that, from at least the time of my beginning this series until now—a glorious three weeks and two days!—the Lord has kept aflame all that He is doing. It is beyond comprehension, the things that the Lord can do. However, I am beginning to see something that I had not anticipated. There is no possible way to expound upon God’s glory in one tidy “final” part, so I will be continuing this series indefinitely, for as long as it takes. In GOD’S SMUGGLER, THE CROSS AND THE SWITCHBLADE, THE HIDING PLACE, THE HAPPIEST PEOPLE ON EARTH, etc., John and Elizabeth Sherrill taught me that the best Christian testimonies/memoirs/autobiographical sketches are comprised of detail upon detail. If faith, hope, and love are the multi-colored threads that must be woven into a tapestry in order to create something beautiful, details are the cloth that upholds that embroidery.

But I am getting very much ahead of myself. Let us begin with 7 May. In most ways, that Wednesday was like any other. True, I had received worship music in the mail, but that was nothing out of the ordinary. I’m always buying worship music; sometimes, I listen to it right away, and other times, I let it sit on my iPod for three years before plunging into a sea of new, beautiful, congregational adoration. That day’s music actually consisted of two DVDs, which I promptly sat down to convert to MP3 files using Audacity. Hey, they’re my DVDs, and I don’t plan to sell the audio material I extracted—you wouldn’t want it anyway. This is unique music. Unique or not, though, you must know that it was what I listened to exclusively from 2002-2003. We didn’t have much in the way of worship music, so I took what we had and ran with it. What we happened to have were two obscure, independently-produced VHS tapes of Christian children’s music. My beloved readers, if you were stranded on a deserted island with only the International Children’s Bible, I can guarantee that you would be studying it before long! And so, this was worship. Every sung and exclaimed “hosanna” and “hallelujah”, every account of His cleansing, every mention of the name of Jesus, every celebration of His goodness. And why did I buy these DVDs anew? Because, if nothing else, I wished to catalogue an era—to scrapbook it, as it were, and to make an audio picture of where I had been spiritually in the months after receiving the Holy Spirit. Very mature, intellectually-sound aims, don’t you think?

Now, a project like this actually requires me to stay with the computer and make sure that everything is running smoothly. JAWS, Audacity, and Windows Media Player don’t always play nicely in the sandbox. So, there I was, sitting in my sanctuary—though I could never have known then what a great moment of worship would unfold—and wrapped up in blankets and heating pads, for the evening was chilly. For two hours, I listened to that music. For two hours, I found myself remembering every nuance and every note of joy in the singers’ voices. And for one-and-a-half of those hours, I found myself singing the name of Jesus, and the word “hosanna”, and the concept of His cleansing, with all my might, just as I did during that 2002 era of innocence and of “no worship music”. But how could I have said that? Whether it’s a five-year-old singing or a seasoned sixty-five-year-old raising reverent anthems to our Lord, are they not both worshiping Him?

Mature, intellectual aims quickly faded into the background, and as they did, the Lord began reminding me of things I had long chosen to forget. How I would awaken during those early days of seeking—and finding!—with a song already on my lips. How I would bring the Bible to the small high-school I attended and read between classes, during lunch, and anytime a visual movie was being shown and I somehow couldn’t participate. How I would come home from school, do homework and read the Bible with my beloved baby sister, enjoy a cup of very cheap hot chocolate as though it were an imported delicacy because of my gratitude to our Savior, bask in the joyful knowledge that I had somehow managed to complete most of my own homework earlier in the day so I could worship, and then proceed to do just that. Late, late at night, when I was certain that everyone else was asleep, I sneaked out into the living room, turned on the television, hope that the loud buzzing would not wake anyone else, insert one of those two precious videos into the VCR, turn the volume down as low as humanly possible while still being able to catch every third or fourth phrase, and sing deep inside with no words, but with all my heart. That was the best and only use I ever found for the family television! When my heart had been satisfied, I quietly put away the video and the remote control and tiptoed back to bed. I wasn’t afraid of getting in trouble for being up so late on school nights—I was one of those teenagers who was given a little more freedom just because my mind worked differently; I was also permitted to get up at the crack of dawn to do my homework rather than completing it all at night, and I often did just that. No, I wasn’t afraid of being found out, but of being interrupted. This was my most precious worship time—never mind that it happened to be taking place in a highly-centralized location.

As I listened to this precious music and contemplated the ways in which I used to go about enjoying it twelve years earlier, the Lord began to minister something truly wonderful to me. Gradually, He showed me that He could restore all of that joy and innocence, all of that purity and peace, to my heart. Once again, I could be filled with a freedom in worship that would override the need to explain to my readers why I might happen to have children’s music in my possession—less excusing my “unintellectual” actions, more exuberance in Him. Deep in my heart, I knew that He was promising to heal emotional and spiritual traumas that had broken me for over eight years, wounds that had been mine since 2006. Soon, they would all be gone, and only His glory would remain. If I would only accept His work in my life, He would return all my wasted years, those myriad moments I had spent in loneliness and self-pity rather than in His Shekinah glory.

In my last post, I wrote that the Lord had called me to repent, but that I had resisted for three days. I didn’t want to repeat that mistake. I wanted all He was going to provide, and, much more importantly, I wanted to please Him and to live in His presence. As soon as I realized what the Lord was beginning to do, I said, “Yes, Lord.” Just that. Right there in my worship sanctuary/prayer closet, with that lovely music still playing, I ran and leapt and danced in the freedom I knew I was being given. In many ways, my reaction was like that of Simon Peter—jumping into the sea and swimming toward Jesus rather than waiting for his boat to be rowed ashore, or asking Jesus to wash not only his feet but also his head and his hands. Joyous and trusting to a great extent, but somewhat impetuous. Oh, I should absolutely have surrendered to God and accepted gladly all that He was doing, but—well, you’ll see what happened.

In that moment, I believed God’s restoration had all been given to me at once, and that I was prepared to go out the very next day and conquer the world. Does this remind you again of Peter, walking on the sea toward Jesus but sinking at the sight of the waves? That was me—praising God for what He had done, not what He was doing or what He would do, and then falling flat on my face the next day.

That Thursday, 8 May, was the date of Naomi’s monthly infusion. I always go along, simply because the infusion seems symbolic of how far the Lord has brought us. On this day, something happened with one of Naomi’s nurses that made me profoundly uncomfortable. I made the mistake of over-inflating my distress and sharing it with anyone who would listen, much to the heartache of all involved. Oh, I begged for forgiveness—from God, and from others. But even then, even after Hannah and I had gone for a long walk in the cool breeze, even after I had sat in one of my favorite outdoor places to worship and listened to Don Moen’s “I Want to Know You More”, even as Hannah and I walked home and picked lilacs along the way, I felt defeated. I did not know what had happened to the promises of the previous evening, but I was quite sure that I had not been set free after all, and might not be… Indefinitely. I cried out to the Lord without any real expectation and resolved to go back to whatever shrinking, unemboldened ways I had attempted to forsake. I was unchanged, and there seemed to be nothing I could do about it. True, actually, I could do nothing more, but His power is far greater than mine—how much pain I could have been spared had I chosen to remember that! . But—oh! How great is His mercy!—for the Lord did not allow me to languish in my miserable failure for long, but stretched out His hand and lifted me from the waves, asking in the process, “Where is your faith?”…

Addendum: All right, I’m going to go out on a shaky, intimidating limb and use as my worship title one of the songs that so blessed me on 7 May, a little worship anthem by Rob Evans and something ostensibly for children. Are we not all children of God? And therefore, does not the song “Jumping Up and Down, Shout Hosanna”, from the DVD/video ON TOUR, more than qualify as legitimate praise? “Shout Hosanna” it is! As performed live, the song features exuberant clapping and the waving of palm branches, a discussion of the Triumphal Entry and of following the Great Commission, and so many moments of pure praise. Its freedom reflects what I had on that wonderful evening and what I was very soon to have again, though I did not know it at the time.

Restoration and Holiness, Part III: “More of You”, Less of Me

My beloved readers, I beg your pardon for any spelling or typing errors that appear in this post. My screen-reader, Microsoft Word’s spellcheck, and WordPress are not cooperating with one another. I was forced to choose between publishing a highly imperfect document or publishing nothing at all, and written worship is important enough that I did not fel I could allow this piece to languish for simple want of the correct technology. I’ll never forget the night last year when I woke myself up praying. Now, that isn’t terribly unusual—it has happened at other times. It was what I was saying to the Lord that surprised me, for there seemed to be almost no way that He would answer my little request. All I know is that I was deeply asleep, but that in the next moment I found myself fully awake and crying out, “2004—Lord, I want it back! I want all of that back, and I need more of Your presence!”

If you haven’t already, I’d suggest that you take a moment and read Parts I and II of this story. If you’ve already done so, you know that I had been at peace in 2004—indeed, from 2002 to 2006—and that nothing really frightened me or threatened to shake that glorious knowledge I had been given of God and His wonderful Word. You’re also aware that 2006 brought with it such fear, anguish, and spiritual turmoil that I continued to suffer from the aftermath of that six-month era long, long after the Lord had set me free from the attack itself. You know that everything from heart pursuits like spiritual warfare and intensive worship to mundane things like multi-tasking and focusing on joyful memories was close to impossible from day to day.

But as I saw it, my prayer to have the peace of 2004 restored was ridiculous and ungrateful. I had been changed by the spiritual trauma I had endured, and that was just the way it was. Was not asking God for more restoration than He had already given me implying that I didn’t find His grace all-sufficient? Deep within me, there lingered a bittersweet memory—of lying in bed each night during the spring of the second year after I had received the Holy Spirit. My prayer life at that time was something like this: “I have thanked You for all that You have provided and all that You will do, for Your Word and Your promises… I have asked that those who need a relationship with You be drawn to Your truth… Is there anything else? No, nothing else, for You are my Provider, and I have no needs—none whatsoever—because Your joy and peace are filling and flooding over me.” Who wouldn’t want that back? The memory was hard to shake—that sweet season of blessing and glory—but I made the effort, relegating that piece of my spiritual history to the back of a proverbial attic. A round self-scolding completed the moment, and I resolved that I would not ask for anything like that again, even in my sleep.

But—don’t you know?—I almost wonder whether the Lord Himself didn’t allow me to pray that prayer, when I was half-asleep and had fewer defenses against desperate, hope-filled supplication. I wonder, in hindsight, whether that prayer wasn’t so very ungrateful after all—whether, perhaps, I would have received deepest restoration much sooner if I had only sought it. “Ye have not, because ye ask not” (James 4:2).

You see, it was answered—not all at once, but so gloriously that words can scarcely describe what He has been doing and what, I trust, He will continue to do. “He Who began a good work in you…” (Philippians 1:6).

It was a few nights later that I had a beautiful dream in the Lord. I wonder, though, if He would have answered so gloriously if I hadn’t asked to be restored. Something to think about… In this dream, I was sitting in the place where I always go to worship, journaling and listening to an allegory by Dennis Jernigan. The allegory/music, by the way, is called DADDY’S SONG, and is heart-rending in the mercy and grace it portrays; I recommend it to anyone seeking a closer relationship with God. Anyway, as this dream continued, the Lord convicted me that I had been much, much too complacent. I had spent my time concerned about surface-level emotional cures for myself, without taking time to pray for the brokenness in others’ lives. I had been self-seeking in material things when I could have sacrificed for His kingdom. I had relied on the wisdom and counsel of man, rather than seeking His will and peace. I had given in to every complaint, every moment of pain, every distressing circumstance without even beginning to seek the Lord. I needed to repent.

Does that surprise you, my beloved readers? Did you expect to read a paragraph beginning, “The Lord gave me a dream of His presence”, and ending with the words or concept, “He has fully restored me and this will never be a problem for me again”? As believers, and especially within Continuationist circles sometimes, that is the outcome we expect. Don’t misconstrue that last statement—I’m right there among the ranks of the Charismatic churches and have always, always cherished the Holy Spirit and all that He is and does in our lives. That’s the only reason I feel that I can even come close to touching this discrepancy and calling some of the churches out on it—I’m Charismatic, and I have been guilty of exactly what I’m trying to get the rest of you to re-perspectify. Anyway, back to this dream, what the Lord showed me, and how we sometimes feel God will work in our lives.

Why didn’t God simply restore me that night? Why did I need to repent first? Because, my beloved readers, that’s where it begins. We see this numerous times throughout Scripture: Gideon was mightily used to defeat an army of Israel’s enemies, but first he was commanded to destroy the idols that he, his family, and his town had been worshiping; Paul was sent throughout the Roman world to proclaim the Gospel, but he could never have done any work at all in God’s service if he had not repented for his past life of sin; Jesus told Peter to feed His lambs, but only after Peter wept over denying Him… If our hearts are hard, cracked, dry clay, then they can’t be molded and shaped into beautiful vessels for the Master’s service. We must soften that clay with tears, or ask God to give us a willing heart.

I love what Stormie Omartian says on the subject. In her books STORMIE and LORD, I WANT TO BE WHOLE, she describes horrible, unspeakable abuse that she suffered during her early childhood. Shortly after coming to Christ, she decided to see a counselor from her church. This woman listened to Stormie’s story for a mere thirty minutes, which some of my readers will doubtless feel is unique from a purely psychological perspective, before telling Stormie what to do. Before praying for restoration, and before even praying to forgive her abusers, Stormie was asked to make a list of every sin she herself had ever committed. She was to write all of this down and ask the Lord to forgive every transgression as soon as it came to mind. The result? During the next joyous counseling session, Stormie Omartian was filled with peace in His presence—set free in a much deeper way than confronting the abuse first would have done. Eventually, she and her counselor did discuss forgiving the people who had caused Stormie such heartache, and those traumas were healed—but first and foremost, we need to look at ourselves. If we’re relating this to the agony I suffered in 2006, we can say that, while brothers and sisters may have said and done hurtful things during that time, I didn’t have to let it go on so long, nor did I have to allow the bitterness to build long after the Lord had removed the catalysts from my path. That was on me—hence, the Lord calling me to repent.

Did I? You want to know. Well, not at first. At first, I was so stunned that I tried to dismiss the whole thing, asking the Lord whether that moment was really from Him. I knew better—we as Christians know the voice of the Good Shepherd, and a stranger’s voice we will not follow. Nevertheless, I edged around my need for repentance by asking the Lord how I could be sure He had given this to me, by saying that I didn’t know what to do or how to do it, etc. Do you know what the truth was, my beloved readers? I was terrified. Somehow, I felt that repentance and surrender would lead to God asking me to do something that I felt unable to do—that as soon as I gave Him back control of my life, He would take from me everything that mattered in the flesh, or something equally scary. Oh, my beloved readers, don’t do what I did. Don’t question God for three days before getting on your knees. Don’t ask and plead and verify, don’t seek another answer, don’t fear what God might require of you, because whatever it is, it will be for your good and out of love and not fury. Don’t do what I did. Listen, and obey.

When I finally decided to do just that, I had no idea what I was doing. It was a simple, faltering prayer. “Lord, I do not know how to follow You better, but I will obey, I will serve You, I will read Your Word. And please forgive me for all of my complacent, self-centered ways.” And after that prayer—after it? Did floods of restoration come then? Not yet, my beloved reader. Instead, there were baby steps toward holiness—reclaiming some of the ways I had served God in the past, but often stumbling as I attempted to move forward.

First, of course, the victories. I sang more, read more, loved more. I began thanking Him for His glory and holiness, for Who God is, and not merely for the earthly blessings He provides. I began trying to honor Him in small things like what I ate and how I spent my time—less enrichment reading, more spiritual. I devoted one day a week to Him as a day of rest. Although it still broke my heart to have other Christians disagreeing with me, I tried not to enter the fray, but to bring peace. Occasionally, I even managed not to become entirely crushed when people disliked my actions. Once or twice, I found myself saying, “I know you don’t like what I did, and I do ask your forgiveness—but I know that our Lord still loves me.” I hadn’t been able to do that before. And when I did stumble, which happened more often than I would have liked, I was much more remorseful about my sins. Then, too, the Lord began to demonstrate His sustaining, strengthening power in the midst of my own weakness. Prior to this call to holiness, I would become reduced to a shrunken mound of misery whenever I experienced conflict. Now, instead of retreating into complete solitude without the joy or hope afforded in prayer, I found myself running to Him, flinging myself at His feet in some sanctuary somewhere, turning on the local praise and worship radio station and pleading for rest and peace and consolation. Not the most faith-filled reaction, but at least I was running to the right Source.

Certain things remained unchanged, though. I still had difficulty multi-tasking, trusting others, and remaining calm during crises. I had repented and turned from my sin inasmuch as I felt was humanly possible, but I had no idea where to go from there. In fact, by March, I began to feel again that my spiritual life had come to a standstill—increasing frustration, decreasing faith and trust; increasing pain from past traumas, rapidly-diminishing hope that the pieces of my broken heart would ever be put back together.

Now, you must understand something, my dear readers. My heart-cry of last year and the dream that the Lord gave me were not related in my mind. I did not imagine that He was beginning to answer my prayer to have “2004”–translation, the peace and joy of a by-gone era of worship–in worship—restored to me. I simply thought that this was a call to better service in Him—God is God, He had told me to repent, and I must obey. Nothing more to it. And so, my beloved readers, you can’t begin to imagine what happened next. It was glorious, and entirely unexpected. If the Lord wills, you’ll hear all about it in Part IV.

Addendum: The title for this post is based on Don Moen’s worship ballad, “More of You”. It appears in English on the album “Let Your Glory Fall” and in Spanish on “En Tu Presencia” and “Mas de Te”. It is heartbreakingly, on-your-knees beautiful in its simplicity: “More of You, / And less of Me. / Lord, I pray that there might be / More of You and less of me.” Oh, that is the cry of my heart!

THE PROJECT: A Response to a New and Special Reader

My beloved readers, we take a break from the four-part series I had been posting in order to pen something that I, at least, consider very special. This morning, at 11:00, I had a telephone conversation with a woman whose ideas and thoughts I deeply respect. At that time, I mentioned a project that had become tradition amongst Jedidiah, Naomi, Hannah, and myself—especially Naomi and Jedidiah. The person with whom I was speaking inquired as to what project I might possibly be referring, but I was reluctant to disclose it. Finally, I sent her to this blog—but, you know, I must follow through… So, if you’re reading this, and you know who you are, here is my little response, revised and expanded in order to let other readers in on this most personal piece of my life.

For as long as I can remember, there were cassettes. There were vinyls and CDs, too, and eventually music downloads—but the constant was those cassette tapes. After all, you couldn’t record on a CD or etch constant family memoranda upon a vinyl. Besides, you could affix Braille labels to those tapes, unlike any other media. Ah, cassettes! And, when there were no longer cassettes, when they broke and tape players began costing $60 if you wanted something that would last for over three months, then there were little blurbs on the handheld digital voice recorder.

For as long as I can remember, I say, there were recordings—particularly of loved-ones’ voices. Many of my readers are already acquainted with this fact, but I doubt you know the extent or the depth of the phenomenon. It all began with books to which I did not have access—old, fragrant, print books that would never be embossed into Braille. And because I would never be able to read them for myself, Naomi or Jedidiah would sit down with a tape recorder and painstakingly read every detail, sometimes adding their own narrative commentary. Oh, that narrative commentary! Thoughts on characters’ actions, on the unconventional spellings of words, on the uniqueness of a certain turn of phrase, on how interesting—or not!—they found my choice of reading material… And when books had been exhausted, then there was the singing. The conversational thoughts from day to day. The articles from Guideposts. The whispered prayers and words of encouragement. All encompassed on ninety-minute plastic rectangles. Exquisite!

Eventually, the cassette tradition developed a distinctive pattern. At least twice a year, usually about six months apart, we deliberately set aside time to do beautiful things with one or more tapes. It was something I began anticipating two and sometimes three months before we would ever even begin working on a Cassette Project. Hey, since I can’t employ unconventional fonts in this blog, imagine “Cassette Project” in twenty-point font, in an extremely bright color, will you?

And then one day, it stopped. Those who know me will ask whether, perhaps, it ceased because we were going through difficult times. I can tell you the real reason. We stopped with all recordings on the day when I received the Holy Spirit. I had been a Christian, a devout Christian, for many years prior to that day in 2002, but never before had I known the intensity of God’s love and presence. Never before had I told Him, my Lord and Savior and now my closest Friend, “I will never want anything, or anyone, more than You, O Lord.” I had never before said that, and if I had, I would not have meant it to the depth that I meant it on that glorious day in 2002. And, when I said it, I could not have imagined what it all meant.

It quickly became clear, though, that one of the first things it meant was the end of recordings. Odd to say that, but ’tis true. And—don’t you know?—I was all right with that—no, I was deeply content. All I really needed were audio translations of the Bible to complement my Graille volumes. And I had audio Bibles in abundance—New King James Version, Revised Standard, New International, New Living… What were a few paltry stories, songs, and words of wisdom in comparison to THAT!?

Oh, it didn’t stop completely. Once, Naomi, Jedidiah, Hannah, and a precious sister in Christ whom I shall call Martha colaborated to present me with recordings of chapters from Scripture—even down to my favorite translations of those passages. Revelation in the RSV, Psalm LVI in the NKJV, John XX and XXI in the NIV… But those were isolated incidents, and I continued without a need for Projects.

Then, in 2006, I experienced a deep spiritual trauma that most of my readers are already acquainted with, and which I shan’t dust off here. Suffice it to say that everything changed during those six months. Oh, Jesus was still all I ever needed, but I forgot to see that. Instead, I clung to people as, if not my primary source of comfort, a strong supporting reserve. Gone were many of my feelings of contentment, and I was terrified of abandonment. And so, I reinstituted The Projects. So much turmoil was taking place in my life—the remnants of that spiritual crisis, medical traumas for myself and my loved-ones, academic and guide-dog-related pressures—that I decided I must have another solace. At the beginning of this post, I introduced a woman whom I deeply respect; I did not initially want to discuss The Projects with her because I’m now ashamed to admit how deeply I clung to something so very, very trivial in the scope of life. But cling I did. Twice a year and every six months, as in days of old, I set out materials. I would place a Bible next to a list of favorite passages, top the whole set-up off with two or three cassettes, a tape player, and batteries, and wait. I would discuss how very, very, ever-so-exceedingly meaningful this was, would casually quote certain Bible passages that I had listed out to see if I could get anyone to share whether any had been recorded—was that a faint glimmer of recognition I heard in Naomi’s voice?—and do everything in my power to suggest that this tradition could not, must not, be allowed to fade from our memories and consciousnesses yet. Sometimes it wasn’t Scripture; sometimes it was a fervent, pleading, almost too-emphatic request for people to share their testimonies, with that ever-present tape player sitting prominently on the kitchen’s central island. Or a not-so-subtle copy of Stormie Omartian’s book, LORD, I WANT TO BE WHOLE, “just happening” to appear on an end table, held open by a stack of blank tapes on each of the facing pages. Not that extreme, but it wouldn’t have surprised even me if I had ever actually resorted to such measures.

This year’s Project has been a little different. On 11 March, I began an alphabetized, annotated compendiom of anything that has ever had spiritual or sentimental value for me or anyone else I’ve ever known and loved. It was quite an undertaking. The result is a 104-page document in ten-point font, single spaced. It now resides in a three-ring binder, each page carefully folded into a sheet protector. My motives for wanting this as the Project of 2014 were twofold—first, I wanted those I loved to see my heart; secondly, I can see this document being perfect for narrator commentary, for the singing and exclaiming and general chichat that have always made these kinds of recordings so precious. And so, this time it was a new recorder that made its way onto the kitchen countertop, along with the bulging binder, a sort of labeler, written instructions as to how this book-length work is best read, and a number of cassettes that I am almost ashamed to write down. All right—six! Six tapes, but I later removed two of them, leaving the other four because—face it—104 pages may require that many.

All of this was done by 2 May. The “book” had taken me that long to complete! By 7 May, though, the Lord had begun to work on my heart. In His Word—all those wondrous, “exceedingly great and precious promises” of comfort and peace—and by His Holy Spirit, He began reminding me of a much, much better way. There were promises of His sufficiency, and even promises to return to me my wasted years—all the time I had spent pining for peace following that spiritual crisis of 2006. And day by day, He began to fulfill those promises. One day I would be given more boldness to proclaim the Gospel, the next day I might be shown how to serve Him in serving others again. And interspersed amongst all that He was doing in giving me strength and emotional healing was His pure, indescribable joy. I think that joy was but one way in which He showed me, beyond all shadow of doubt, that He is my all, my everything. I had forgotten what peace there was in obedience, what rest lingered in surrendering to His will. And so, as I took baby steps out of that place of traumatic memories, anxiety, depression, and self-willed thinking, He filled me with overwhelming joy even as He was gently chastening me about what I had neglected before Him. Oh, what we read in the Bible about His conviction coupled with love—it’s beautiful!

Meanwhile, the Project was well underway, without my “help”. With no hints, no words of hope or pleading, those I loved sometimes stayed up long into the evening. How do I know this? Because subtle word games and hints have become part and parcel of this tradition and are about five percent of the fun. I’ve been privy to someone picking up a cassette, and then two tapes a few days later, rearranging them so they rattled a bit, and then setting them down with a little bang that clearly identified the objects being moved about so. Little things like that. So, I know that things are underway without my begging. Oh, to think that I ever did that!—but, you know, we all have our thorns, whether it is Internet addiction or the need for approval or a tendency to eat ice cream when we’re sad or a pathetic latching-on to a tradition involving recordings from loved-ones.

I was lying in bed the other night, contemplating this, and I believe that this is the next thing the Lord would have me to surrender to Him. If I say that He is all I need, how is it that I am so fervently clutching this tradition? Moreover, how is it that I had hitherto been tying Projects to deeper emotional things—approval, abandonment vs. security, and other things that my readers can probably imagine? How? What I know now, or believe I know, since I am still developing and being strengthened in Him, is this: I believe there will come a point, perhaps as soon as six months from now, when I really won’t need those Projects anymore. Will I enjoy the ones I have received over the years? Absolutely! Would I ever spurn having another bestowed, for the sheer delight of it all? Not at all! But if He could satisfy my soul, and my heart also, from 2002-2006, and if He is the same yesterday and today and forever in His love and caring for us, which He is, then surely I can trust Him for all that I need, at the very core of my being. When I contemplate His love, grace, and mercy, all else really does pale in comparison. It is at those times, when His glory is so intense, that I’d just as soon leave Projects like the ones we’ve traditionally done sitting on the bureau untouched for days or weeks or even months. And as I draw nearer to Him, I trust that more of those moments in His presence will be mine, changing all my earthly desires and redirecting my heart to follow hard after Him. He’s already working on that, and I hope and pray that I’m ready to give up all my clinging, clutching, grasping tendencies when it comes to these Projects, in order to rest in Him. Step by step, step by step…

Addendum: Most of my readers know that I generally title my posts after worship songs. I’m making an exception here because the woman with whom I spoke this morning indicated that she might be reading this post and I wanted her to find it easily. I’m still going to name this post, though—if only in your mind and mine. It is called “You Are My All in All”, taken from the worship song of the same name. The version off of which I based this post is by Bob Fitts and appears on the album HE WILL SAVE YOU. Go and buy it!