Possessing a new land

156824-bigthumbnailIn their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock; you told them to go in and take possession of the land you had sworn with uplifted hand to give them. (Nehemiah 9:15)

I have a hunger in my heart that will not go away. A place in my spirit that wants more. I think the Lord placed it there the moment I was conceived … a hunger to possess a land He wants me to have, a land where love and healing come together.

For many years, I didn’t know what that hunger was about. I thought I could take care of it with various types of counseling, with emotional band-aides, or by focusing on my work, my kids, my life outside my marriage. Anything to fill the hunger and stop the pain that had come into sharp focus 30 years ago, when I was kidnapped and raped. It so often happens this way – outside forces propel us on a healing journey to the foot of the cross – a place we might never have chosen to go. My pain came to me in a dramatic form, but I know people who have experienced events and situations just as painful, just as debilitating, without the public exposure. Whatever the case, whether we find the cause of our pain by peeling away many layers, or it’s as obvious as a bull’s eye, Jesus waits for us to ask: “Will you journey with Me? Will you let Me help you possess a new land?”

How does Jesus journey with us? Can we list the steps that guarantee healing? 1 – go to counselor, 2 – express anger, 3 – forgive, 4 – forgive yourself, 5 – be healed. It would be nice if that was the case – direct, straight-forward, done with it. No, my experience has been much messier, quite desperate at times, involving detours and unexpected obstacles, but in every detour, every obstacle, Jesus has shown up with some sort of amazing gift. Often it’s a new revelation of who He can be for me. Or who I am in HIS eyes. Or something totally miraculous.

The breakthrough I needed came after many years of being in and out of counseling, sometimes by myself and sometimes with my husband. They were years of putting band-aides on the pain: techniques to deal with anger and shame or to have better communication, or maybe finding a new counselor.

But the hunger remained, and somehow God found a crack in my heart and used it: I suddenly realized, despite all the counseling, that nothing had truly healed the pain in my life. I told my counselor, “I think I need to quit. I think I need to try going back to church.” The band-aides weren’t working, and my heart was ready.

I vividly remember sitting in church, in front of the altar and large crucifix, with tears pouring down my face as new friends prayed over me.

These tears had been bottled up for a long time – angry tears. In my mind’s eye, I was throwing all my pain, all my disappointment, all my shame and anger AT the cross. I was bone-weary with carrying it around, and I wanted it GONE. I could “see” the muck and filth I was hurling toward Jesus growing like a pile of manure at the foot of the cross.

I didn’t care what anyone thought about the sobs or the brokenness. I was desperate. I wanted the pain to be gone!

And then, as I felt myself being emptied of tears, I looked at that pile of manure and saw tiny blades of grass beginning to grow from it – beautiful green life holding the promise of new beginnings. And I heard the Lord say, “I will bring new life out of your pain.”

And that is exactly what the Lord has done. How ironic – my pain turned into spiritual compost! “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you,” says the Lord (Ezekial 36:26)

The journey to a new land, a new heart, has brought me incredible gifts. It has been painful…liberating…empowering…humbling. Without it, I might have remained a lukewarm, broken follower of Christ, a Christmas and Easter Catholic. Instead, it has brought me gifts I never would have discovered on my own, gifts that continue to give me life.

I discovered I could turn to a “band of brothers” – beautiful, inspiring people I might never have met, who stand in the gap for me, my marriage and my family. They are prayer warriors.

I’ve taken emotional and spiritual risks that have brought me to the foot of the cross, but then through it to the Resurrection.

I see how God speaks to me in ways that only I could understand. Who else could orchestrate seeing a bumper sticker message – “Jesus paid the price” – minutes after the convenience store clerk had paid for my new toothbrush, and the morning after I forgave my kidnapper?

I’m not tempted to put spiritual band-aides on my heart any more. When I see an area of my life that isn’t working, where I’m guarding my heart, or retreating from love instead of moving toward love, I’ve learned to invite Jesus into it. I may dance around the issue a while, trying to avoid it, but in the end I know it has to be the work of Jesus.

Along with this I’ve learned not to isolate. When I’m hurting, my instinct is to retreat from the judgmental gaze of the world, go “lick my wounds” in private, but God wants to use other people in my healing process, and how can that happen if I keep my pain locked up in a dark, emotional closet. When I speak out my pain, I release it to the light – the light of Christ – and it loses its power over me. When other people pray with me, it’s as if they carry part of the burden for me, trusting the Lord in an area where I might be struggling or doubting. Through their intercession, the healing power of God breaks down walls.

I’ve learned to listen to my heart and rely on the intuition that says “go to this retreat,” “read this book”, “ask for prayer.” If I feel the Holy Spirit is telling me to take a risk, to step out of my comfort zone, I do it – because those moments seem to yield the greatest treasures, to hold the most rewarding, empowering gifts.

And finally, the journey has allowed me to discover one of the most amazing gifts of all: God intends to turn our biggest pain into our biggest victory. One of my most difficult struggles has been in my marriage. Not only was I hurt, but so was my husband, so was our marriage. But my marriage is becoming a new land for me. Just today my husband texted me: “I love you. Your heart is safe with me.”

When I was desperate, when I threw all my pain at the cross, the Lord’s fierce love poured like a deluge into my journey. After experiencing the power of His love, I can’t be satisfied with anything else. Band-aides used to seem like enough, but not anymore. I have a new heart, I have a hungry spirit that has begun to possess the land He has for me.