This past Sunday I shared my testimony at our church. And apparently… now I’m sharing it here for the internet.
The night my dad was dying I sat on a plane with my 7-month-old baby on my lap and looked out the window. It wasn’t hard to notice that the plane next to me was headed to a much different destination. The plane itself was completely decked out with exciting paint that let everyone know that this plane was headed to: Disneyland. I couldn’t help but think about how much I wished I was on that plane that night, how much I wished I could hop on it right that moment and literally fly away from what was happening in my life.
But let’s back it up a bit before we dive into that.
I grew up in the Saskatchewan prairies, in a town so small it is technically a village. My parents divorced when I was around 4-years-old. Their story is not my story to tell, but it was messy. Despite that, I actually do feel like I had a good childhood. I ran wild and free and grew up playing with friends, was close with my brother, surrounded by my extended family, and I felt generally happy most of the time. But I also grew up feeling torn between my two parents, who never spoke, so I was sometimes literally the messenger between them. There was alcoholism, loud fights, divorce, lack of communication or expression of emotions, a stay in a shelter, social worker visits, court dates, blended families… just a lot of broken people trying to figure out how to do this thing called life.
And all without God.
High school was a tumultuous, emotional time for me as it is for many teenagers as the navigate their way through high school and changing hormones and trying to figure out where they fit in this world. I was so overwhelmed by my life and by my pain, I wondered what was the point of life and why was I even born? By grade 9 I had began to self-injure (which continued until my first year of university), grade 10 I added in disordered eating for about a year, and I took any opportunity I had to party and drink or use other substances with my friends. I was miserable. I often thought of ending it all.
After I graduated, I started to feel a sense of wanting something more from life. I sensed there must be something more, but I didn’t know what to do with that because I didn’t want to go to church. But in my first year of university, a friend of mine was getting baptized, and she invited me to come witness it. Choosing to be a supportive friend, I went with her. I started coming to church, I joined a small group, and for the first time I saw people caring about their spirituality, believing in God, and working to live it out in their actual every day lives. Between seeing this, being welcomed into such a loving community, and Jesus’ teachings, my changed my life forever.
I decided to be baptized the day I first heard about the Holy Spirit. I am chronically indecisive and so the sound of relying on the Holy Spirit to guide me sounded amazing. I was baptized soon after, but spent the summer feeling alienated and misunderstood by my friends, and really alone as I hadn’t quite made close friends yet in my church. Satan found this a prime opportunity and pounced on my vulnerability, not for the first time, and not for the last time. I spent the first couple months post-baptism partying more than I ever had before, until the day it all became very clear to me what God had done for me in my life, and I knew from that moment on I wanted to give it all back to Him. Peter and I had been dating about 9 months by then and I told him that I was going all in for God, and he could either join me, or… NOT.
He chose to join me and from there we jumped on a roller coaster of following the Spirit wherever He lead us.
It’s not that I never had doubts in all these years since becoming a Christian, sure I’d had moments of doubt or wondering what I got myself into, but they were very short-lived. I trusted God and my faith continued to grow.
Fast forward to my dad’s diagnosis. His second diagnosis in 3 years came just shortly after Eleanor was born. This was the bad one, the final one, it’s in the bones and it is terminal. I was determined I would stay strong. Do you know the story in Daniel of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego? They were literally faced with death, and not just any death, being burned to death in a furnace, if they did not bow down to other gods. And they stood firm saying “our God will rescue us. But even if he doesn’t, we will not bow down to your gods.” Yes, I told myself, I will remain faithful even if this doesn’t go the way I would like. I clung to this summary of Daniel 3: “and if not, God is still good.”
And yet, one week after his death I found myself wondering if this was all true what I had given my life to, and if it was even worth it. The devil saw this as another opportunity to pounce on my vulnerability, and this would be the worst attack yet.
I can honestly say I have never felt such confusion, fear, and hopelessness as I did during these last two years.
I knew that I still believed in God, but I stopped believing God.
I stopped believing He was good.
I stopped believing He loved me.
And I started to believe the devil and all the horrible things he whispered into my heart.
It affected my marriage. It affected who I was as a mother. Who I was as a Christian and as the wife of a pastor. Many of my feelings from my teenage years resurfaced, that overwhelming pain and self-loathing. Though I did not engage my thoughts by acting on them, thoughts of self-injury were often there, and it took all of my energy to fight them off. Leaving this world crossed my mind more often than I would like to admit. One night I lay in my bed after all of my family fell asleep, I cried and battled the very real thoughts of getting into my car and driving away from it all, knowing it would be hours before anyone would even know I was gone. It felt as if I was just one breath away from grabbing my keys and going.
I found myself crying often, and feeling angry over very simple things asked of me. Over the simple fact that my children needed something from me. I was their mother after all, but I was unable to give any more at that point. And then the overwhelming feelings of shame would come over me, because even though I wanted to run away, even though I was angry, and sad, I really did love my family and knew that I had so many things to be thankful for. But I just didn’t feel thankful. And that made me feel awful.
People tried to encourage me, and tell me to keep praying, or to trust, and honestly? It was all I could do to not roll my eyes at them. I have prayed (like, at least once a day). I still go to church. I serve. I’m in small group. Sometimes I even get up early to pray and read my bible, AND I have a special worship playlist. Does God not see my special worship playlist?! And yet, I do not feel Him. In fact, I feel abandoned. Abandoned during the most painful time in my entire life. Proverbs 13:12 says that “hope deferred makes the heart sick” and I was seeing real life evidence that this was really, dangerously true. I desperately wanted to believe God, and to be my old self again, but every time I got a shred of faith, the devil came in with 10 more doubts.
This past summer I re-read The Practice of the Presence of God. If you haven’t read this humble yet powerful little book, I can sum it up for you now: “pray without ceasing. think about God all the time. and if you find yourself not thinking about God… don’t worry about it, just start thinking about him again.” I was skeptical, it seemed way too simple, and of course Brother Lawrence, who wrote the book, could do this — he was a monk for crying out loud! I bet he didn’t have four kids interrupting his thoughts every 2 seconds, or a million things to do in the monastery. But I started to put try this out, thinking about God as much as I could, offering simple prayers of “help me, God, help me” or “thank you, God” or “wow, God” (just some examples) into practice, and day by day, I have been able to see the good in my life again, I have felt heart-wounds begin to heal, I have felt his presence again. I can hear the truth again, I have joy again, and I have HOPE again. Life is not suddenly perfect, but I am starting to have all of these things again because of Him.
You know, over the past two years there is a word that kept coming up. And I kept ignoring it because I really didn’t know what to do with it in my pain. Abide. Abide in me. Besides, I was pretty sure he just wanted me to abide in Him so he could get me to do more stuff for him and I was pretty much done doing any of that because I felt like all I did was hard things for Him, pushing myself to drag 4 kids everywhere, and coming to church days after giving birth, or going to retreats 37 weeks gestation, or leaving a stable church family for the instability of a church plant, but also choosing Him made me the black sheep in my family, it singled me out and made me different from them, which is such a hard feeling. And my family-of-origin seemed to be falling apart and my dad died, and all of that happened while I was close to Him, so yeah, I kinda felt like I was done with that for now. I was going to try to handle it myself.
Oh, but our God. Man, I’m lucky he’s such a loving and patient God who could see my pain, and waited like the most loving parent for me. He heard me think such adolescent thoughts about him, equivalent to slamming the door and screaming I hate you! like some teenager on an hormonal rampage. But He is all wisdom, and He is all love, and He waited patiently, lovingly, for me to be able to see. I don’t even know yet all the things he has done to carry me through this pain, while I beat my fist on his chest pushing Him away and blaming Him.
Through all of this, He continued to pursue me: abide in me. And I continued to wonder, “How? I’ve been continuing to go to church. I’ve continued to go to small group. I’ve tried to mentor people and help people. I help out with kid’s classes. Sometimes I pray. Sometimes I read my bible. Sometimes I get up early to do it, and I listen to worship music, and I’m showing UP, God, but where are you? Why won’t you come to me?”
And then one day, I was laying on my bed, praying. And I felt that I should get down on my knees, and I was like nope. I don’t have to get on my knees to pray, laying here on the bed is just fine. There’s no rules about this, people can pray however they want. But it became very clear to me that God wanted me to get on my knees, not because he was commanding my obedience, but because he wanted me to trust Him. (I figured that part out later.)
He made it clear, because though I intended to continue praying on my bed, I soon found that I couldn’t continue praying. No more words were coming, the only thing I could think of was I have to get on my knees. Begrudgingly, awkwardly, uncomfortably, I got on my knees and soon discovered that I was able to pour my heart out again.
And so, I finally asked. “Why can’t I abide in you, God? What does it even mean? I don’t get it.”
And I didn’t hear a voice or anything but I felt it, very deep in my spirit, “You don’t abide in me because you are afraid to abide in me. You are afraid to trust me. You are scared of what abiding in me may cost you. And, you feel like abiding in me is something you should do, so that you will be able to produce fruit for me. But I don’t need you to produce for me. I can do all of that on my own. The only thing I want is your heart. I want you to abide in me simply to be with me. And once you do that, you will be able to produce fruit, but not because you have to. Because you get to.”
Well. Let me tell you. I came downstairs from that prayer time a little wide-eyed and stunned. As someone who feels valued only by what I am able to contribute, as someone who is a people-pleaser, being asked not to focus on producing, not to want to be with God just so I can pour Him out again, this was going to be a challenge! But also, a sweet, sweet relief. God does not want, nor does He need, me to do anything. He’s got that all covered. But He does want me. My heart. My love. My friendship.
I have given birth four times, three times 100% naturally. I learned about a method where when each contraction comes, you focus on keeping your muscles relaxed and breathing through the pain, instead of our natural inclination to tense the body up and resist it. Tensing up actually makes it harder, while focusing and breathing is easier on the body. An interesting thing about labor is that, when the contractions come, it takes over everything, every thought, nothing else matters as you curl up in pain waiting for it to end. But when it ends, you can talk normally, and it’s almost as if you aren’t in labor at all. As I look back over my life, I can see it in just this same way, a really long labor. Sometimes life is good, but sometimes life is very painful. The pain does not discriminate, every one experiences it at some point. Some of us have easier labors than others, but we all have the pain. It’s equally as part of life as the easy times, but the contraction is what truly progresses the labor. When the pain comes into our life, we want nothing to do with it, we tense up and we want to run from it. Or hop on a Disneyland plane and get OUT. OF. THERE. I discovered that I must learn embrace the pain, to let my body, and my heart, go with it. I needed to learn to breathe through it.
Now, if you’re going through something painful right now, you may just want to roll your eyes at me and scoff, and you know what? That is real. And that is okay. I’m so sorry that you’re in pain. I rolled my eyes and scoffed at encouragement, honestly, not even too long ago. So I get it, I really do. But, as someone who just endured a painful season that felt like it would never end, and is starting to come out on the other side of it, I urge you to hold onto that shred of faith. I know that’s all I had, and it really didn’t feel like it would be enough to get me through. It felt like nothing could lift me up, because I just couldn’t believe it. You might be thinking, “Well, that’s nice that that happened for YOU, but that’s not going to happen for me.” I’ve felt that. But let me tell you right now, that is a LIE straight from the enemy, and he wants to steal ALL OF YOUR HOPE, and ALL OF YOUR JOY, and he wants you to quit BELIEVING GOD, and believing in His promises for you. The promise that God LOVES YOU. And that He will NEVER abandon you. And that He will give you His Spirit. And so many more promises.
I recently learned that the Hebrew word used for breath is the same word used for spirit. Breath. Spirit. Same word. What if when I choose to breathe through life’s contractions, I take in His Spirit? His Spirit, which John 3:34 says is given WITHOUT. LIMIT. so I can take as many breaths as I need to be filled up. What if each breath through the pain, I can be given eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand?
I’ve just been through the hardest contraction of my life, but do you know what finally helped to relieve it? My circumstances have not changed. My dad is still gone. There are things I’ve seen that I cannot forget. But practicing His presence, trying to breathe His name constantly, to pray without ceasing, this is what has set me free from that dark, harmful place, and set me free into the light and into the truth.
The contractions will continue to come in my life, this labor is not yet over. But I have hope again that when my labor is done, it will give birth to a beautiful new life in Heaven, where pain and sorrow will be no longer.
May you practice God’s presence as you go through your days, may you breathe His Spirit in, may you breathe it in deeply.
This post is day 10 in my 31 day writing challenge. Read more here: