Free For the First Time

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The fog and rain of the day before had lifted and the sun shone through a few clouds as I headed back home from my visits with friends and family in Atlanta. I was in high spirits while constantly surfing the radio for entertaining music or programs. I even stopped a minute at a Spanish language station to see if I could make out any words. Gee, my Spanish is soooo bad now!

Thirty years ago, I left a fundamentalist /end times cult. I had gone through several life events since then: Rebellion, atheism, the suicide of my brother, parents’ divorce, and my own marriage and children.Thankfully, after the first ten years I had found grace and salvation through Jesus.

I didn’t realize that I was still affected by my cult upbringing and still in bondage until a lovely couple at my church was sharing during Sunday School about Messianic Jewish traditions they had observed in their recent stay in the Holy Land. I was looking forward to hearing all about it. I love history and different cultures.

They started talking about holy days on the Jewish calendar and how Christ was incorporated into the celebrations in Messianic churches today. Then came trigger words used when I was growing up. They were Biblical terms that had been used in vastly different ways in my childhood. Suddenly, I was a little girl again. We had strict observances of Old Testament holy days, although devoid of Jesus’ finished work on the cross, and filled with oppressive laws from a hard, harsh God. I was overcome by the old familiar feelings of despair, anxiety, and alienation. The heavy chains of cultist theology constricted me and I couldn’t  breathe. I thought I was going to explode. I raised my shaking hand and half screamed while choking out the words,”You all just don’t understand what this can do to you without Jesus!” I can’t remember what else I said, but I was embraced with gentleness and love and a whole room full of people stopped and prayed for me. I gradually stopped crying the big, ugly cry.

After that, more triggers from certain events in my life appeared, which were always followed by panic and debilitating anxiety with tears. Months went by. Then a year.

A dear friend loaned me Young Living’s Freedom Kit of essential oils three weeks before this Atlanta trip. I had unbelievably crazy dreams from the first night using them. I don’t usually dream, so this was surprising. They always had something to do with my childhood, yet I felt gradually more like an observer and not entangled in the dream. During the day, I began to have the sensation that I was an old, weathered building with paint flaking off. It felt like bad things falling off of me, but not hurting as they fell. I had one nightmare that I was falling asleep on the couch of my childhood home and a demon reached for me, but didn’t get me.

On this Sunday, driving home from Atlanta, I felt really happy. I started the ascent of Mt. Eagle outside of Chattanooga. Still flipping through the stations, I stopped at a familiar song by Nickelback called “Photograph,” which I had heard a hundred times. I started singing along. All of a sudden, something felt odd. I started to hear MY story in the song. What I heard over and over wasn’t exactly what the actual lyrics were. I heard and saw in my mind, my old house, and me walking out the front and out the back. Then looking for a photo of a “prison” I’d been searching for: “It’s time to say it, I have to say it, good-bye, good-bye.”

From somewhere deep, deep inside me, I knew I could say good-bye to everything – to the prison I only thought I had left, yet had carried around with me for over 30 years. I couldn’t stop crying. I cried up the mountain and down the other side. I cried until I couldn’t cry any more, and then I DID cry some more. I had the sensation of release from every cell in my body.

I was free. It is a remarkable thing to be free for the first time in your life.

Thank you, Jesus, for Young Living and these amazing oils!

The Evidence of Things Unseen

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Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen“(Heb.11:1).

I consider myself a person of faith, though that faith seems to wax and wane like the stations of the moon. This week in particular I had one of those crises of faith, days of despair.

I always thought I would make a good detective because I am good at gathering clues and evidence. I’ve had lots of practice finding lost items of my kids and husband, but I sure missed the mark in this situation.

I read the clues and evidence perfectly. Unfortunately and unknown to me, it was planted, and I fell for it like high heels on black ice. I was “set up,” by the master deceiver, the Devil himself. Maybe you, too, know what I mean.
Have you ever believed something with all your heart and soul to be an offense or a painful blow directed at you? Everything points to someone or something as the culprit. You know what they’ve said and done. There’s no question that they are the enemy, the cause of the grief and pain they inflicted in your life. Day after day, the evidence stacks up. It becomes unbearable. You may love them and pray earnestly that you can go on, that you can forgive. You’ve been through it before. You’ll get over it, you tell yourself. God is in charge, give it to Him.
It got so bad, I set the timer on the stove for one hour. God, I know you can work miracles. I can’t take any more. I’ll give you one hour to do something, ANYTHING, to make this situation better. To give me hope. What would I do if nothing happened? I couldn’t even think about it.
I prayed. I read the Bible. I cried. Nothing happened. Nothing happened all day.
 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
The next day, a friend sent that verse to me. She told me who the real enemy was, the one who had come to steal my joy. She later said she had felt prompted that very moment to write to me.
One major problem: I had all this evidence to the contrary: In direct contrast to the first verse above, I had evidence of things seen, and it was clear and obvious. Words and actions were substantive. Any jury would be swayed. On the other hand, all I had was one verse saying that Satan was the thief who came to steal my happiness, the Thief of Thieves.
I decided to abandon the evidence. I told God I couldn’t see it, but I would believe that I had been deceived, had actually been given false evidence. Just give me this faith to believe what I can’t see, that flies in the face of what I think I know to be true.
I didn’t even have to wait till the end of the day before I found out God was right, I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong.
“…Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar”….(Rom. 3:4).
It made me think about Joseph in the Old Testament. Look at the evidence that he had that people were total lowlifes. His brothers sell him into slavery. His master’s wife accuses him of seducing her then he’s thrown in jail. Finally, he thinks he gets his big break because God directly gives him the interpretation of two dreams of Pharaoh’s high-up servants. God’s getting me out of this place! He cares about me. He sees how long I have suffered and that I have tried to follow Him, he says to himself.
Then what happens? Nothing. No release comes, no help. No joy. He sees that he can’t trust anyone.
Finally, years later he is released and promoted to the highest office in the land under Pharoah. I believe that he felt blessed and joyful to be free, but what’s in the back of his head? I think something special was revealed to him when he saw his brothers:
“‘As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (Gen. 50:20-21).
I believe that he first saw that God meant it all for good when he saw his brothers. There had been evidence of good and of a different reality that up to that point he had not seen, had been hidden. Satan had tried to steal his joy and had planted seemingly overwhelming evidence to prove that God wasn’t there all along.
So, to encourage you, I would say that you have to know that your real enemy, Satan, is a prosecuting attorney with every trick up his sleeve that you can imagine. He’s got tons of evidence and it looks like an open and shut case against you and your situation. It takes the intervention of your Advocate to show that the case is a sham, that there is another reality, revealed only through faith.
Seek your Advocate. Don’t let your enemy steal your joy. Things are not always what they appear to be.

The Giant of the Trees: A Vision

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I want to go. I don’t want to go. I’m on my way to a silent retreat at a monastery in Kentucky to spend a weekend with God.

My apprehension grows as a dear friend and I drive the long, winding, narrow road in early November a few years ago. There’s a small group of us, but we will basically be alone for two days and nights, meditating on Bible verses given to us by a spiritual director. We will also meet with her once by ourselves, then as a group on the last day.

Well, I’m here, but what if God doesn’t show up? Yeah, it would be me who comes for nothing. But then, what if He does? Maybe I don’t really want to meet Him.

I don’t know about you, but I am not comfortable with silence. I’m an introvert who is very happy being alone – if I’m busy with something, but not necessarily happy with real aloneness. If I don’t want to spend time with me, why would God?

Knowing Him inevitably leads to knowing oneself. They go hand in hand. Never have I learned about God without seeing myself more clearly, but I don’t always like what I see.

I record many thoughts in a journal that weekend.

“Want to be alone,

But not with You.”

My spiritual guide gives me four different verses. For one of them, Isaiah 46:3-4, I am to put my name instead of “house of Jacob.”

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob Gwendolyn, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

Sitting on the edge of my bed, I am suddenly lifted up by strong arms. I can’t see the face of the Giant because of the pattern made by sunlight dappled through leaves as I look up. It’s warm and smells like the woods after the rain. I wrap my arms around His neck and lay my head on His back. His shirt smells like the trees. I am up so high! I laugh at how high I am. I see birds eye-to-eye on the branches. I reach out and touch the leaves and watch the birds flutter away. I feel like I did when I was a little girl and would climb as high as I could. I am somehow there and not there, because now I can see myself on the back of the Giant being carried through the woods as if I am an observer.

The longer we walk, the older I become. I am tired. My arms are weak, withered, and my hair is gray. Still, I lay my head on the Giant’s back and am carried, secure. This is best of all. I feel perfect happiness like I have never felt before. I silently weep for joy.

I weep on the edge of my bed.

Thank you Lord that you wanted to meet me here. That you carried me, that you will always carry me, that You are strong. May I never forget the Giant of the Trees. The One who was nailed to the tree and walked away to walk with me.

What the Locusts have Eaten

“The Lord says, ‘I will give you back what you lost to the stripping locusts, the cutting locusts, the swarming locusts, and the hopping locusts. It was I who sent this great destroying army against you.'” ~ Joel 2:25, NLT

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Four kinds of locusts, four kinds of harm and desolation. Four ways to think about the damage evil is allowed to do to us and those we love from within and without. To me though, knowing that God sent it would be completely devastating without tempering that knowledge with the fact that God loves us and has a purpose in everything.

The stripping locusts take from us what we love or what we need. What has been taken from you? Was it your innocence as a child? Your loved one? Health? When things are taken from us, that are part of us, little pieces like bites are taken out of our hearts.

The cutting locusts take away our bearings, leave us swaying without a foundation. Circumstances out of our control make us feel like broken twigs tossed about only to be crushed underfoot. Pieces of our lives lie scattered, disorganized, unrecognizable.

The swarming locusts are the outside stresses that dog pile everyday. They fly so thick you can’t breathe without swallowing a mouthful and choking. The air is black and blinding. You can’t even move.

The hopping locusts are the redundant, repetitive annoyances that just won’t go away. If it happens ONE MORE TIME you will lose it. Or if it happens ONE MORE DAY you don’t think you can take it.

Lastly, I don’t know why the locusts are sent. It makes me think of Job who also wondered why.  His “friends” said his calamities were all his fault, a judgment against him. God never told him the reason. When God did speak, it was of his greatness as Creator. That was Job’s answer. That was enough. In other words, He is enough.

I pray right now that God will restore what the locusts have eaten in your life. If not soon, may you have the grace and strength to endure, which is also given by the One who restores and redeems. He is enough.

Leaky Pots

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Hi, my name is Gwendolyn, and I leak. No, I’m not talking about when I sneeze – that’s another blog. I’m talking about when I breathe. And guess what? You are leaky too.

It’s an often used analogy that emotionally, spiritually, or physically wounded people are “broken”. It’s so often used, because it accurately describes the way the heart feels after trauma and loss.

I clearly remember an acquaintance from many years ago. Our children were involved in school activities together. I thought to myself what a lovely person she was. I heard through the news and others months afterward that her husband, a soldier, had been killed. Some time later I ran into her at another event. I was startled by her appearance: There was a complete transformation. Grief had repainted her portrait. She was broken.

I’ve gotten to know her better since then and have noticed something very remarkable: She leaks. When you are near her, it spills over onto you. Through the gaping cracks flow grace and love.

We leak that with which we are filled. The hitch is that leaky people can’t stay filled. Because nature abhors a vacuum, we will be filled with something. What are your contents? You could choose one of these labels:

“Caution flammable” – Do you blow up when a spark of irritation gets too close?

“Contents under pressure” – Have you taken on too much?

“Not for human consumption” -Has bitterness made you poisonous to yourself and others?

Those who are initially filled with grief will at first leak sorrow, but after a time what leaks out will reflect the character of that person and becomes a choice. I want to be like my friend, who I now consider one of the most beautiful people I know. I want my brokenness to be a vehicle of grace. I want to spill out love. I want to be filled every day with forgiveness and leave a leaky trail behind me.