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28Jul '16
Kneeling in the Desert

Kneeling in the Desert

Offer it frequently on your knees; but whether sitting, walking, or standing, be always inwardly longing, and earnestly praying this one prayer to God: “That of His great goodness He would make known to you, and take from your heart, every kind and form and degree of Pride, whether it be from evil spirits, or your own corrupt nature; and that He would awaken in you the deepest depth and truth of that Humility, which can make you capable of His light and Holy Spirit.
— Andrew Murray, Humility

During my time in Africa, there were many days that I felt the weight of darkness in the village. It was pioneering work in an unreached people group with no local believers, a handful of long-term workers, and me. Locals were generally apathetic about life, everything was difficult to accomplish due to limited resources, and it was oh so lonely there. One day, as I sat at the front desk of the hospital in my usual attire of long sleeves, a floor-length skirt, and two layers of fabric wrapped head-to-toe in a veil over my clothes; I was sweating from the 115 degree heat blazing through the window, swarmed by flies, and without a fan or AC to help. My big project of organizing the patient records system was in process but not anywhere close to the end, so it was often challenging to locate the correct files. I needed to speak with patients to get their names but we couldn't understand each other well. My local hospital co-worker, who miraculously spoke some English, was having to correct what I thought the patient had said to me. I was annoyed. I'm asking their name, age, and where they're from. Why is this so hard? How is my work here doing any good for anyone? I sharply told my local co-worker that she could talk to all the patients because they obviously didn’t want to talk to me and I was tired of people telling me their name was one thing and telling her something different. Then I was convicted. Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Ouch. I wasn’t demonstrating the Holy Spirit in my life as a good witness to these people who had never heard the truth of Christ because I was too focused on the temperature, flies, language, and being right.

I went home that afternoon and wrote Scripture on index cards. For many years, I have used cards to memorize Scripture and keep the Word obviously before me, either in my pocket or on the wall at home. I took three (Philippians 4:5-7; 1 Corinthians 15:58; Ephesians 4:1-3) to work the next day and put one beside the keyboard. My newfound motivation was met with immediate opposition, as I could have expected; so keeping these verses at the forefront of my mind was really needed. There were locals crowding at the window yelling over one another to be helped, computer problems, more language confusion, and the heat. The heat made all of life harder because things overheated, and people were cranky and dehydrated. But the Word did not return void.  I was internally joyful and steadfast because God was helping me. 

Another day, I was told to find a folder for a person whose name could not be found in the computer. Names were spelled differently all the time and vowels seemed interchangeable. I was doing the best I could. One of the local employees was causing more tension by insisting on the name being spelled in a way that wasn't documented in the system. It occurred to me that I should sing, so I let my mind drift away from the stress at hand and focus on the grace of God as I sang silently. I stepped back and let the local worker do her thing while I waited patiently. I knew my labor was not in vain because I was working with and for the Lord. I was so thankful for His presence. 

Since I arrived in the country, I had been intentional about singing songs of worship and submission to the Lord on a daily basis. It was so helpful to me to declare God's goodness and power, my identity in Christ, faithfulness and love toward God, and other Gospel truths. When I was feeling incredibly discouraged, my mind would reel with negative thoughts. But when I started singing, the simple lyrics would speak to my heart. I heard the truth of the Gospel as I sang out my dependence on God.    

The village usually felt so thick with darkness because frankly, it was dark. We were praying daily as a team to be lights for Christ, but we were just four to six flashlights.  It seemed to be a daunting task. It was typical to experience times of encouragement and strength from the Lord, followed by hitting a wall of discouragement, and then clinging even more to the Lord for perseverance and joy. Sometimes the discouragement seemed to take over though, even while relying on the Lord. How are these people ever going to come to know God for who He really is?! I want to just yell out that they need to know Jesus Christ as God, Savior, and Lord! But even if that was legal to do, they wouldn’t accept it. They’d think I was crazy and trying to ruin their lives. How do I have perseverance, Lord? How can I have hope in your victory in the midst of the apathy of life here? It was such a battle. 

I knew I was responsible for my reactions to people and problems. Of all the things I couldn't control, I could control my responses. I would be frustrated when someone said or did something that bothered me, but I would remind myself with a Scripture verse or song lyric that God was sovereign and I'd focus on having a godly response. And… ouch. I had a big blow to my soul. Another conviction. I was wrong. God showed me that even before I responded to a person or circumstance I was sinning! Those thoughts in my mind that were annoyed with someone, or my frustration about my discomfort in a circumstance — sin. That is pride. Even the smallest thoughts of comparison that I knew more or better, they were insufficient, or whatever — my ugly, dark, prideful heart. I started praying constantly for God to remove those negative thoughts, and I realized I was having prideful thoughts all day long! I figured out the best way to do this. At least I don't have that trait. At least I am acting genuinely. I’m doing a great job visiting people for tea. I'm the one working without a fan or AC, and I don't complain. I'm so glad I'm keeping a good routine to stay healthy in the heat. Every thought or inclination of my heart was stemming from pride. 

I was brought down before the throne of God and saw my insufficiency. My heart was broken over the pride that had been hiding from my sight. It stunned me to realize that He had used me for His glory for over a decade in spite of my sin. And then there He was with open arms, picking me up and showing me that THIS is grace: how He died for me while I was still a sinner and continues to use me for His glory. Romans 5:8 and 2 Corinthians 4, plain as day. It seems my sin went so deep that God didn't show it to me all at once because I wouldn't have been able to handle it. Step by step He showed me and gave me the opportunity to lay it down.

 My hope in God (i.e., confidence and assurance that He is sovereign and will prevail over darkness) grew. I could see it as an illustration of a tree. It started with a humble heart — soil. As humility increased, faith was planted — seed. As faith increased, my trust in God and His Word grew — roots.  From those roots, hope grew like a tree that flourished with good fruit for Christ's glory. It was a wonderful change in my workday and life. I had been frustrated working with people, so I worked with the Lord instead, while being around people. God loved them through me. My focus became the Word of God, called Faithful and True. Rather than frustration toward the darkness and hopelessness around me, empathy exploded from my heart for the villagers. The compassion had been there before, but it was hindered by my sin. God's heart for them was filled with love, longing for them to see Him. And that was why He brought us there. He wanted us to be the living representation of Himself in that lost world because He is glorified when we broken sinners love with His love. Throughout my life I will always need to submit to the Lord again and again. That process is what will continue to take me closer to my Savior.

In whatever darkness you find yourself, may you humble your heart and mind before the throne, choose to work with the Lord, and spend time putting the Word of God before you all day in word and song.

Here are a few of the other passages I focused on that year.  I hope they will speak to you, too.

  • Psalm 126:5-6
  • Psalm 130
  • Proverbs 10:19
  • Ecclesiastes 5:1-2
  • Colossians 3:12-17

*The author of this post is a member of the Summit Crossing family. Due to ongoing work in Africa, it is best the author remains anonymous.  

12Jun '16
Peace in Suffering

Peace in Suffering

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a mom; I never wanted to be anything else. My husband and I met in high school and knew pretty quickly we were meant to be together. Though there were things we saw differently, we always agreed when it came to our future with children. We wanted multiple children, and he wanted me to be able to stay at home with them. We were married for several years before we started talking about adding to our family, and we had no idea the road we were about to embark on. After a month of trying, we became pregnant. Since it was our first pregnancy, we took no extra precautions, and were awaiting our scheduled eight-week ultrasound. We had told all our family and friends, and I was on cloud nine. At our ultrasound, we were told that we were not measuring as far along as we should be, but to just come back in a week to take another look. Since I was new to the pregnancy thing and did not know what to expect, I did not think anything was wrong. When we went in for the ultrasound a week later, we were told there was no growth and that we had lost our child. I was devastated. I did not understand why. At first, I was just hurt. I would see pregnant women everywhere, and it would make a part of me ache. As months went by, my hurt turned into anger. “How dare God take my baby? Why could other women have children but not me?”

I was still working through all those issues, and God was working on my heart when we became pregnant again. All my anger and hurt went away. Since we had a previous miscarriage, we went in for early blood work and an early ultrasound and everything came back great. My blood levels were normal, and we heard a perfect little heartbeat. I was back on cloud nine. I remained slightly nervous until our ten-week ultrasound where we observed a perfect little baby, and all my worries went away. A few weeks later, I started spotting lightly, but I was told it was perfectly normal and if it got worse, to let them know. I was at work when my light spotting turned much worse. We went to the doctor; the ultrasound showed no heartbeat, and again, we were devastated. We had lost our precious baby. I was scheduled for a D&C for the following day, but I passed everything at home that night. It was the hardest thing that we have ever had to go through. We were able to see our precious little one. We could see the beginning of arms and legs. We could see where the eyes and mouth were beginning to form. It was a combination of amazing and heartbreaking. With our previous miscarriage, I had not run to Christ and His promises. Instead, I chose to rely on Ryan and my family for comfort. Yes, I had prayed and talked to God about it, but I had not truly relied on Him. I knew that I did not want to go through the anger and true hurt that I went through with the first miscarriage, so this time, I did take everything to God. It was truly amazing the peace that I had through those first few weeks. There was still hurt and sadness, but it was nothing compared to the first loss. There was no other way to describe it but supernatural. I should have held on to that peace with everything I had. I should have pursued Christ and relied on Him, but instead, I started to pull away. It was not a conscious decision to turn away; I just slowly stopped asking God for help, peace, or strength. A few months later, I finally realized how bitter I had become. I was driving home from work one day, and God used some music full of truth to bring me back to Him. The grace and peace God had given me returned, and so much more. A weight was lifted, and I felt truly whole again. God is an amazing Father!

A few months later we discovered we were pregnant again. Due to our previous trials, I was more nervous than excited. The early tests looked great, but still I was a nervous wreck throughout the whole first trimester. Going into the second trimester, I began to calm down once I could see and feel our baby move. Being pregnant was as amazing as I always thought it would be, and we were blessed with a 9lb 13oz, beautiful, healthy baby boy. Landon was and is our little miracle. He was a spectacular baby and a joy to care for, and I am currently able to stay at home with him, for which I am so grateful.

A few months before Landon’s first birthday, we found out we were pregnant again, this time, a surprise. We wanted our children to be close in age but were not planning on them being that close. Because of our history, I had bloodwork done, and we had an ultrasound scheduled for six weeks. There were some early fears, but our six-week ultrasound showed a little heartbeat. We started to get excited, making plans to rearrange bedrooms, and looking at decorations. When we went at 9 weeks for the ultrasound, there was no heartbeat. You would think that since we had been in this spot multiple times, it would have been a little easier, but it was not. The only thing that was easier was that I knew how I would react. I knew that I would be strong in the beginning, but as time went by, I would start to withdraw and become bitter once again. I knew how blessed I was to have our son but at the same time, I was so sad that we would never get to hold our three other little ones. It was only by God’s grace and the surrounding of my family, missional community, and church, that I did not become withdrawn and bitter, though I still struggled. Thankfully God pursued me by using what surrounded me, even though I failed to pursue Him.

We started trying again several months later with the help of fertility medicine. We tried for six months, which included multiple doctor visits, ultrasounds, monthly shots, and six different medications. During this time, God began to work truly on my heart. It really is amazing to me how God works. Our church family studies together verse by verse through various books of the Bible. Recently, during the fourth and fifth month of our attempts at pregnancy, the chapters we were going through were on idols. It began to hit me hard that having a second child was my idol. I was obsessed with it. It was the main thing I thought about throughout the day, and when I found out each month that we did not get pregnant, I was devastated. It controlled everything about my life. God revealed to me that I was putting it above Him, as well as my husband and my son. This changed how I saw everything. When we started the regimen the sixth month, for the first time, I was at peace about it. I was truly able to pray we would get pregnant, “but if not”, I would be ok with it. My husband and I decided that if we did not get pregnant that month, then we would take a break from trying. We did not get pregnant, and we kept to our decision and took a break. No more doctor visits, medications, or ultrasounds, and I was able to simply relax and enjoy my family. Of course, the first month we stopped trying to have a baby, God granted us another child, and I was ecstatic. I just knew that God was answering our prayer, since we had stopped trying in our own time and had trusted Him. I went in for blood work, everything looked good, and they put me on a supplement to make sure my levels stayed in the correct range. We went in for the eight-week ultrasound and observed the heartbeat. I asked if I could come back in two weeks to give me peace of mind. At our ten week appointment, we truly believed there would be nothing wrong. We were just going to see our little heartbeat, and I would be more at ease, however, the ultrasound showed no heartbeat. We were blindsided, and I became so angry at God. “Why would He do this to me again? I was at peace with not having another child yet and waiting on His timing. Why would He let us get pregnant, when we were not even trying, only to take it away from us?” I have never been so angry. With the previous miscarriages, there was some anger, but mostly hurt. There was a part of me that knew God was sovereign and had a plan for me that is so much better than one I would choose. I also knew God is holy, and I am a sinner undeserving of anything He has given me. Even though I knew these things, it did not help my anger at God. I did not even want to ask for God to give me peace and strength. I did not want to pray at all. Our family and missional community have surrounded us with support and prayer. I honestly do not know what we would do without our Christian community surrounding us. Even though I did not want to pray or talk to God, God used those around me to remind me of His love and faithfulness and speak gospel truth into me. Slowly, my anger has started to go away. In all honesty, I still struggle with some that I just do not want to let go yet, but God is pursuing me as his daughter and working on my heart. I know that if I completely let it go, quit trying to bear the burden alone, and take it to God, He will surround me with peace and comfort. For some reason, I am not ready for that yet, and I still want to hold on to my stubbornness. The suffering is not over, but in the midst of it, I am so thankful for a God, who does not give up on His children. He continues to pursue us and bring us back to Him even when I would have given up on myself a long time ago. He truly is faithful.

Story written by Hannah Wheeler