Spring has begun here in Winchester, VA. The temps are rising and the daffodils and crocuses in my yard have just started to bloom, looking like sleepy maidens trying to awake from a long winter’s rest. This time of year is a beautiful reminder of fresh beginnings, new starts, and of course the miracle of resurrection.
I can’t imagine better timing for the release of my friend Crystal Sutherland’s new book, Journey to Heal: 7 Essential Steps of Recovery for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. While we still have a little over one month to wait for Journey to Heal to reach stores, I am honored and blessed to be part of Crystal’s book launch team, and was recently given the opportunity to read the first few chapters of her book. As I started to read, the primary message that leapt off the pages and into my heart is that God is bigger than our pain. His ability to heal will far surpass anything we can fathom. Crystal emphasizes this truth by sharing some of her story of healing – the healing of her heart and soul, and the healing of certain relationships.
In my own life I have experienced similar circumstances and been humbled by God’s awesome power to heal, especially within my family relationships. I confess, I have not always understood the importance of working at healing and restoring fractured relationships. At times it has seemed much easier to just walk away. But by my mid-20’s I started to realize that even if I walked away I still had to carry the burden of hurt, anger and pain – in fact walking away just made the baggage I was hauling heavier. This was especially true for me in my relationship with my mother. I had spent years waiting to hear the words “I believe you” and “I’m sorry,” thinking these would be the magic words to cure all, and as time passed, without even realizing it, the seed of bitterness grew larger in my heart.
I feel a burden deep in my soul and it is so heavy sometimes I feel like it’s crushing me from the inside and I can’t breathe, my stomach hurts, my heart aches and all I can do is let the pain leak out through my eyes.
There is so much hurt and pain all around me. Friends with broken marriages, broken hearts, broken bodies, broken dreams. Those mourning the ones they love the most and trying to find a new normal. Others who have seen or experienced unspeakable evil. And I feel it. I feel all of their pain. I carry it with me…and I cry out to God, why?! How?!
Why is there so much hurt and loss and suffering and pain and struggle?
How do I help or comfort or ease or carry those things that are crushing the ones I love?
And I do the only thing I can do, because I know sleep will not come and tears will not wash away this burden: I seek His word. Over 1,100 pages in my bible, but I ask God to direct my eyes to the right spot and I find Psalm 16.
I read verses 5-7: “Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.” – Psalm 16:5-7
I won’t lie, at first these words give me no comfort. They trouble me because while they ring true, I cannot come to terms with the thought that my “lot is secure” and the boundary lines have “fallen for me in pleasant places” when I see so much suffering around me. Why is this the scripture He led me to in the wee hours of this sleepless morning? And yet I know there is more. So I read Matthew Henry’s commentary of this Psalm:
“In this world sorrow is our lot, but in heaven there is joy, a fullness of joy; our pleasures here are for a moment, but those at God’s right hand are pleasures for evermore. Through this thy beloved Son, and our dear Saviour, thou wilt show us, O Lord, the path of life; thou wilt justify our souls now, and raise our bodies by thy power at the last day; when earthly sorrow shall end in heavenly joy, pain in everlasting happiness…..Heaven is an inheritance; we must take that for our home, our rest, our everlasting good, and look upon this world to be no more ours, than the country through which is our road to our Father’s house….Those that have God for their portion, have a goodly heritage. Return unto thy rest, O my soul, and look no further. Gracious persons, though they still covet more of God, never covet more than God.” – Matthew Henry
Henry’s words remind me that this world is temporary. The declaration of verses 5-7 aren’t referring to my lot here on earth or an earthly inheritance. The “boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” because my inheritance is heaven. The sorrow and hurt and pain that I see and feel around me will end. There will be joy and everlasting happiness. It is His promise to us.
I go on to read verses 8-11:
‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence. – Psalm 16:8-11
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Even when the world around me seems desperately broken and hurting, God remains next to me, my source of strength.
My body will rest in hope. I have hope because God’s promise is TRUTH. Heaven is our inheritance. The pain here in this world is only temporary, our suffering short. We do not own this heartache, this road to our Father’s house. And this hope gives me peace and lets me rest.
And while I still pray for my friends, asking God to heal their pain, and lift their sorrows, I take to heart Henry’s words: I covet more from God, but I shall not covet more than God.
On October 3rd, 2015 ten of us landed in the tiny airport of Rapid City, SD. Four more were making the long drive from Virginia to South Dakota, and our group of 14 would be spending the week working on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Who knew so much could happen in one week?
If you’ve ever been on a mission trip you know that the best part about missions work is you always come home having been more impacted, more changed, more spiritually full — just more — than any impact, change, or help you brought to the community where you served. This is the beauty of God and how He works. I knew this going to Pine Ridge, but I just never expected THIS.
The weeks leading to the trip had been hard…really hard. In fact I almost backed out of the trip at the last minute. So by the time we landed in Rapid City I was feeling very grateful that God had healed my body and enabled me to get everything done at home and work that needed doing so I could be here. I felt sure it was where I was meant to be and He had provided the way.
It’s a two hour drive from Rapid City to Pine Ridge. On the way we passed the badlands and stopped at an overlook to take in the view and snap a few photos. This being my first time to South Dakota I was inspired by everything I saw. I couldn’t wait to get a closer look at this endless horizon of rolling pinnacles and spires.
It had been raining when we landed, but thankfully stopped by the time we pulled off the side of Highway 40. The best view was just down a short hill, and a narrow dirt path led the way. Not really thinking about the fact that I was wearing my favorite Tom’s — great for flying, not so good for traction — I eagerly descended the narrow path. What I didn’t realize was the mud in South Dakota is not like Virginia mud. It is compact and sticky. While it felt pretty firm under my steps, it was sticking to the bottom of my treadless shoes, forming layer, upon layer of a thick, pasty mess. I made it about 1/3 of the way down the hill when I felt my foot start slide. In a moment of spontaneous reflex I shifted my weight to try and catch myself, and ended up rolling my left ankle and landing on the ground.
I felt something snap. I knew it was not good. My pride was bruised, my bottom muddy, but worse, my ankle was throbbing. I sat for a minute trying to compose myself. Some of the guys came over to help me up and I carefully tested putting weight on my ankle. Pain shot up my leg and I thought, “oh God, please. Don’t let this be serious.”
I managed to hobble down the rest of the hill (avoiding the narrow mud path), so I could get my tourist picture, while my internal dialogue said, “you’ll be ok; it’s just a twisted ankle, just walk it off.”
By the time I limped back to the top and removed my shoes to inspect the damage my ankle was already swollen, and by the time we arrived at Restoration Church in Pine Ridge an hour later, I was fighting back tears. The slightest movement or pressure sent lightning bolts up my leg. That’s when the reality that I was not going to be able to just “walk it off” set in.
A few hours later I was sitting in a pew with my foot propped up and ice on it. The rest of the crew was getting ready to walk over the hill to another building where the guys would be sleeping. I stayed behind and used the opportunity of being alone to call home. The tears came quickly as I told my husband what happened. I cried bitterly as I said out loud the words that I’d been carrying in my heart, “I don’t understand why! Why would God bring me here only for this to happen before we even get to the Reservation? I’m here to do a job and I can’t do that if I can’t even stand on my own two feet!” My husband comforted me the best he could and I dried my tears before the rest of the crew came back and saw me. But the frustration and anger began to form a bitter stone in my chest.
When everyone returned, Pastor Wade, the missionary we were working with, came over and asked how I was doing. I explained that everything was very tight and stiff and the slightest movement was incredibly painful. He then asked if he could pray for my ankle. I said yes and the rest of the team gathered around to pray over me. Wade placed his hands over my foot and ankle and began to pray. He said the exact words I had said to my husband moments before: “Lord, you have brought Jelise here to do a job. She can’t do that with an injured foot. Heal her so she can do your work.” Over and over he prayed, “I ask you to heal her in Jesus’s name.”
As he prayed I felt a deep heat start to form in my ankle and radiate out.
When he finished, Wade asked me if I could move my ankle. I hesitated, unsure of what to do, because I knew just moments ago I couldn’t. But slowly I started to point and flex my foot and was startled by the sudden mobility. Then I began to move it side to side and couldn’t believe that I felt little pain or resistance. I looked up at Wade and burst into tears because I honestly could not believe what was happening. I think everyone was stunned and no one talked for a few moments.
But it doesn’t end there…
…the next day was Sunday. I woke up and my ankle felt pretty good, albeit a little sore and I could still not put my full weight on it. But at least no lightning bolts were shooting up my leg. We traveled an hour to the church in Kyle where we’d be working and had Sunday service and shared lunch with the congregation. We did some light cleaning and assessed what supplies we needed to complete the work that was needed on the building. Then we drove back to Pine Ridge and a few of us went to the local grocery store. By the time evening came my ankle was once again swollen and hurting quite a bit. I felt it stiffening up again. Wade prayed over my ankle one more time before he left for the night and I felt some improvement immediately after, but told him it was still too painful to put weight on it.
Looking at the list of jobs we were going to be doing throughout the week — painting, laying tile, yard work, cleaning, etc., I wondered what I would be able to do that didn’t require either being on my feet all day or getting up and down often. And I felt the bitter frustration return.
At 10 p.m. that night I found myself alone in the sanctuary reading my Bible. Earlier that day Wade had talked about what it looked like to praise God. He talked about the many Hebrew and Greek words that were all translated into the single English word praise. He referenced the use of these different words throughout scripture, many of which are found in Psalms. So I opened my Bible to Psalms and started to flip through the pages. I settled on Psalm 18 and began to read:
“I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold…In my distress I called to the Lord;I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears,” (Psalm 18:1-2,6).
I took comfort in those words, in knowing that God heard my distress call.
I continued to read until I came to verse 36: “You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn.”
The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I almost fell out of my chair when I read those words. In all of my years spent reading scripture I don’t ever remember reading a verse about an ankle. The words themselves, so specific to my situation — having rolled my ankle while walking a narrow path. I knew in my heart that it was no accident that I came to this verse, and I felt a sudden urging in my heart to pray that verse over my ankle.
I glanced around, thankful I was alone, placed my hands on my ankle and began to speak verse 36 like a prayer. “Lord, you widen my path so my ankle won’t roll. I believe you can heal me, and you can undo the damage because you make my path wide so my ankle won’t roll.” Over and over I prayed. Then I felt heat come into my ankle again. Tears slid down my cheeks as I kept praying the same words over and over again believing them more with each utterance. Finally the heat subsided and I stopped. I stood up and took a tentative step. I felt no pain.
I took another step and tested putting full weight on my left foot. Still no pain. I walked up and down the aisle of the church crying. I didn’t have to limp, my ankle felt loose and mobile, and there was no pain.
I spent the following five days scrubbing, mopping, laying tile and grout, assembling book cases, installing lights, and more. At the end of each day my back, my knees and my hands hurt from labor, but I had virtually no pain in my ankle.
It was not until Saturday morning, as we departed Pine Ridge and headed for the airport, that I felt the familiar stiffening I’d felt days before. By the time we arrived at the airport I was limping again.
It’s been three weeks since I slipped on that narrow path and rolled my ankle. I know I did some serious damage because my ankle is still healing. But for those five days in Pine Ridge that we were working? My pain was gone. I know God healed me long enough to do what He’d brought me 1,500 miles to do.
Now, I realize some of this might be hard to believe. And that’s OK. I’ve been there. I’ve sat in your chair reading stories of healing and struggled to trust it was true. But the thing is God doesn’t need us to believe in order to perform miracles. His healing power is greater than you or me. He treats, and cures, and saves, and heals every day, whether our faith is big enough to accept it or not.
God will provide what we need in order to do His work.
“In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.”
What area of your life needs healing? Relationships; physical health; emotional well being. Take your pain to Him. Trust in Him. He will hear you. He will heal you.
Nope, it’s not my birthday. Not my wedding anniversary either.
One year ago today I mailed my capstone and finished grad school.
Yeah, so what? (you’re probably thinking) Lots of people finish graduate school.
And you’re right. But this anniversary is really not so much about finishing grad school or even finishing my capstone project and handing it over to the FedEx guy. It’s really about what happened when I walked out of the FedEx office and climbed into my husband’s truck. When I finally gave in to the tears I’d been holding back for weeks. The ugly, dripping, snotty, wrecked sobs. When I let go and let myself feel the weight of the previous three months — the hardest months I’d experienced in years.
Do you ever have a week, a month, or maybe even a year when you start to think, “Really God? What else could go wrong? What else could possibly come my way? Why is all of this happening to me?” And then finally, “God, I really can’t take one more thing. I just can’t.”
That was how things were for me last May. As already mentioned, I was in the throws of finishing up grad-school. I was already worn down and burnt-out from 3.5 years of going to school part time while also working and caring for a young family. And this final push was to be the most challenging as I worked to create an 86 page integrated marketing plan for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital — in 9 weeks. Then, just as I was starting on my project, my husband came home early one afternoon. He had lost his job.
We were shell-shocked. He’d been employed with the organization for 3 years and just received a raise three months earlier. We never saw this coming. But I knew it was no time to get sucked into worry and fear. So I steeled my shoulders, took a step forward and said “we will get through this.” And I prayed, “God, I trust you. Please help us get through this.”
The following week my husband started feeling sick. He went to bed and woke up the next morning and half of his face was paralyzed. The doctor diagnosed it as Bell’s Palsy. While treatable, the doctor said it could be months before the paralysis was fully healed. Treatable or not, when the face you wake up to every morning — the face of the man you love — becomes paralyzed, it’s freakin’ scary! But, once again, I thought, “I can’t show worry or fear. I need to be strong and help him get through this.” So I steeled by shoulders, took a step forward and said “we will get through this.” And I prayed, “God, I don’t understand why this is happening. But I still trust you. Please help us get through this!”
A few weeks later I was driving to pick up my kids from school and I got in a horrible car accident. My car was totaled. Miraculously, both the other driver and I walked away uninjured. I was very shaken up by the whole thing because I knew it could have been so much worse. I knew that if my kids had been in the car with me, it probably wouldn’t have ended with everyone walking away. But, I couldn’t go there. I couldn’t dwell on that. Instead, I steeled my shoulders, took a shaky step forward and said, “I’ll get through this.” And then I prayed, “God, really? How much more? I trust you, I do, but really, how much more can one person take?”
Then a few days later I noticed there was something wrong with my beloved cat of 14 years. She couldn’t walk straight or stand-up to eat. I took her to the vet and he said she probably didn’t have long, but he didn’t think she was in any pain. I watched her deteriorate over the next three days, while I struggled between making the decision to euthanize or to let her go on her own. Finally, she went, but it was not a peaceful death. It was painful and ugly and I cried for her and for me. Still, I knew I couldn’t give in to the grief. I had to power through; finish my project, show up for work, get my kids from here to there. So I steeled my shoulders, placed one foot in front of the other and said, “I’ll have to get through this.” And then I prayed, “No more, God! I just can’t take any more. Please, show me your plan. I’m finding it hard to keep trusting. To keep going. Please make it all stop.”
For the next five days, with head down and placing one foot in front of the other, I worked almost around the clock to finish my capstone. I finally finished everything the morning the project was due. I spent several hours proof reading and making edits and then raced out the door to the copy place. I knew I had to get it printed, bound and dropped off with FedEx before 6 p.m. or it would be counted late. Of course the printers at the copy place didn’t want to work. Then, the binding was off. I steeled my shoulders as I stood at the printing counter, watching the minutes on the clock tick by, waiting for them to resolve the issues. Finally, it was done. I ran out the door, one foot in front of the other, jumped in my husband’s truck and we raced to FedEx. Just as I was filling out the shipment slip, the driver came in for the final run of the night. I had made it just in time.
So, my friends, I’m sure you understand how it came to be that by the time I walked out that door and into that pick-up truck, I was done. I could not steel my shoulders any longer. I couldn’t keep going. And, honestly? It felt good to admit it to myself and just let the stress, sorrow and worry all come rushing out, flooding me until I felt like the pile of wet Kleenex accumulating at my feet. And that’s how I came to God — a soggy, crumpled mess — and said, “thank you; thank you for getting me here, on the other side.”
After a few days of catching up on sleep, clarity started to return and I saw just how much He had done to get me through it.
A few days later my husband was offered a job. A job he loves, and where he is much happier. And I realized what a gift those two and a half months of unemployment had been. He was able to spend time volunteering at our kids’ school. He took care of dinners and housework so I could focus on my capstone. He was able to rest and heal from his illness. And by the time he started that new job, the paralysis was gone.
Not only did I walk away unharmed from the car accident, but the woman who had caused the accident stayed with me until the police arrived, told them the truth and gave me her insurance information. Her insurance company gave me absolutely no hassle and cut me a check for more than I think my car was even worth. Certainly enough to put a down-payment on a new car.
While I still mourned the loss of my sweet girl, I realized how fortunate I was that she chose home to die, as so many pets escape to a hidden place to die alone. I was with her in her final days, and she went when she was ready, so I didn’t have to make the decision to end her life.
Oh, and my capstone? I got an A. And a shiny piece of paper that says I have a Master’s of Science in Integrated Marketing and Communication.
But the view is always clearest in the rear-view mirror, isn’t it?
In the months following I watched dear friends go through hardships and grieve losses that no one should ever have to experience. Things ten times worse than what I experienced last year. And that, of course, put my rough patch into perspective. But the thing is, in most cases they did the same thing. They woke up each morning, steeling their shoulders, putting one foot in front of the other and praying to get through it. Because sometimes…that’s all you can do.
Steel your shoulders so the pain doesn’t knock you over.
Put one foot in front of the other so the sorrow doesn’t consume you.
Pray to God for healing or help or strength, even when you don’t understand any of it. Even when you are mad at Him for letting it all happen.
Because, He will get you through it. One day at a time, He will lead you through whatever hardship you are facing. Whatever loss you are mourning. It may only be once you come before Him a wet, crumpled up mess, sobbing at His feet. But He will pick you up and brush you off and stand you up.
And one day, I believe in my heart, one day, you will be able to look back and celebrate that time in your life because you will finally see where He brought healing and mercy. The moments He loved on you and strengthened you. The days he gently steeled those shoulders because you didn’t know how, and moved your feet forward because you were too exhausted.
You will look back and see He heard your prayers. He led you through the storm.