Excerpt #18 Dukin’ it out with God

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Me with Chelsea on a relatively “good” day

The thing is, you reap what you sow. There are consequences to pay for every wrong decision you make. That doesn’t mean God isn’t willing to deliver you from your troubles, heal your brokenness, change what needs to change…but I’ve noticed something about God, he likes to take his time.

He takes all these loose strings, you know, friends, family, strangers, ideas, circumstances, experiences past and present, troubles…things that don’t seem related or compatible at all, and he begins to weave those things together till they become a magnificent tapestry, something that serves his good purpose. And here’s the hard part, he doesn’t always let you in on what he’s doing or why, let alone how long it’s going to take.
Sometimes instead of changing your circumstances right away, (or at all), he changes YOU within your circumstances. That’s where I was, STUCK. I couldn’t seem to go forward or back. I was learning to wait on God, and it was hell to me.

I would sit there in church weeping silently, begging God to take away my pain. “Please resolve this thing with Dimitri. Either give me what I want, or dissolve him out of my heart! Help me move on!” I knew I could not be “yoked together with unbelievers,” so I was willing to wait for his heart to be captured by God, yet my thoughts of the man I loved still bordered on obsession. It was not healthy, and I knew it. I sobbed and sobbed over him every day till I was worn out.We talked off and on.  I tried to stay aloof and casual, but my heart was continually in the process of breaking and mending.

Meanwhile, Chelsea Rose and I kept up a daily routine of arguing before she stormed out the door to school. I felt like I was walking on eggshells, never knowing what seemingly innocuous comment would slip out of my mouth and set her off. Most days, she left saying, “I HATE you!” Then I’d call her cell before she got to her first class to tell her I loved her. I couldn’t stand to part for the day with such anger between us. However, the frustration mounted. I just did not know what to do to repair the anxiety inside her that boiled up to the surface and exploded all over me every single stinking day of my miserable life. It made me so mad at God that he wasn’t stepping in with a quick fix.

I still yelled at God regularly. The pain inside me was unbearable. Where was he with the answers that only God can give? What did he want from me? I knew I was messing up left and right, but I was forgiven, wasn’t I? So when was he going to show up?

Ever since I had left the church up in Bowling Green, I had been very cynical about preachers and evangelists, especially the ones on T.V. I thought they were fake and just out to get your money. In desperation, though, I tuned into TBN and started searching for someone who could teach me how to stop hurting constantly. To my surprise, I actually found people who made sense to me, people who were wise, humble, and really loved God. Just regular folk, like me.

I started learning a lot about how words have power, and that you can’t go around saying negative things and expect your life to be positive. I learned to find out what God had to say about things, and exchange my habitual grumbly, growly, ugly words for his powerful ones. The bible told me to be transformed by the renewing of my mind. The more I practiced these things, the lighter I felt inside. I even started looking forward to the future.

More and more of God’s personality came to light as I listened to his teachers, read his word, sang songs to him, and spent more time with him alone. I began to understand his love for me, Cindy, and how he made me on purpose, with a purpose. The most important thing I heard about was his grace. I could mess up, fall flat on my face, get up, ask for forgiveness, and keep moving forward. And fall I did, about every two seconds. I was still somewhat defensive with God, combative, even, terribly wounded and angry. Most of the time, though I knew I was forgiven, I felt like God was merely putting up with me. Learning about love is a hard process.

I was very pleased when Natali gave her life to God and attended the same church as me. It was a bumpy start-stop-start-again thing, but finally she jumped in with both feet.Meanwhile, Nathan got charged over in Maryland with assaulting his girlfriend. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 20 years. It would be five years before he could see the parole board. An appeal was in the works.

There was an institution (Patuxent) that housed and treated inmates with mental and emotional disorders, such as the depression Nathan had suffered since his teen years. We decided to pray for him to be sent there, but he said there wasn’t much chance of it. He was told that it would be at least a year before there was an opening for him there.

Considering the 20 years was daunting. Would I even still be alive once he was released? How would I ever afford to visit him? Even a phone call would be rare at more than $7 for a fifteen-minute call. I wrote and told him how sad I was thinking of all the time with him that had been robbed from me. Then it occurred to me that, if he gave his life to God, and we both went to heaven, we’d have an eternity to be together. He wasn’t buying it. For some years he had been inexplicably antagonistic towards God.

A gang in the prison was threatening Nathan and I was scared. You might say, “Hey, do the crime, do the time,” or, “It’s prison, it’s not supposed to be easy,” or whatever. But, if it were YOUR son, believe me, you’d pray for his safety. You’d want the best for him. You’d want him to be warm in the winter, cool in the summer, well fed, and have proper medical treatment. I prayed for God to send him someplace else, and surround him with men who were followers of Christ.

Then one day I thought I heard the Lord say to me, in that “wee small voice” his children hear within them, that Nathan was going to be moved. I wasn’t sure I wanted to tell Nathan that, in case it wasn’t really God saying that to me. Then a few days later Natali came in and said, with a blush on her cheeks, that she thought God was telling her that he was going to move Nathan. That was all the confirmation I needed to write and let him know the good news.

A week or so later I heard from Nathan. They had let him call from the medical unit to tell me he had been stabbed four times with a nail, once in the neck and several times in the back close to his spine and kidneys. It had something to do with all the gang threats, but I couldn’t really make out all the details. My head was spinning with the news. My baby had been brutally attacked, and there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t protect him, I couldn’t comfort him, I couldn’t help nurse him back to health. Where had God been in all this? Then I thought, My God! Nathan by all means should have died in this attack, or at least have been paralyzed. They just missed his spine, after all. God was there looking out for him! There must be a good reason why he let his happen!

After enduring the gang’s intimidation for months, Nathan was placed in administrative segregation, (same thing as “the hole”), while they tried to figure out how to handle the situation. He received my letter telling him that he would be moved while he awaited the warden’s decision. It enraged him that I was praying for him and talking to him about God, but seemingly not doing anything “practical” to help. With no money in the bank, my hands were tied. But I knew who had the real power. He was in the hole for about two weeks before they shipped him to Patuxent Institution. One of the first people he met when he got there was a young man who had recently given his heart to the Lord. Shortly after that, Nathan did, too.

However, this wasn’t nearly the end of his troubles or mental illness, just the beginning of a long, hard road towards healing.

One of my favorite Psalms says, “My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only He will release my feet from the snare…” Yet my eyes were always on the snare. Habit. I’m a soldier in a bloody war with an enemy (the devil) who aims to take my life, one way or another. The smart thing to do would be to stay in training and follow instructions. I don’t. I get discouraged when things don’t change as fast as I want and spend way too much time feeling sorry for myself. I do this, “What’s wrong with me, what’s wrong with me, what’s wrong with me…” thing till I have myself sick in bed not believing my future can be anything different than my past. It’s like the more I focus on the ugliness in me and my own helplessness, the more I get sucked into the quicksand of depression.

I’m telling you this, because, as I go along, I am still struggling so hard against depression, frustration, confusion, and doubt, it ain’t even funny.
Ok. Dagnabbit! I am determined to tell you the rest of this story, so, (taking a deep breath), here goes:

I was sitting on the toilet one day, in the luxurious quiet of my master bathroom, which gave me too much time to think. I wouldn’t normally talk in a public forum about sitting on the toilet, but it makes this next experience more remarkable to me. Sitting there getting ready to jump in the shower, suddenly the emotional numbness that had befriended me decided to vanish without warning. It left me stranded with the raw realities of my life, and at the forefront of that reality storm was that my child had been stabbed. For a moment empathy put me in his place- scared, alone, my flesh being pierced again and again with a nail, trying to bear up like a man…like a convict who couldn’t dare show any sign of weakness, and still, so human. That cold reality gripped me in its claws till my whole body was quaking. Unexpectedly I began to howl in pain and sobbed till my ribs felt as if they would shatter. “Oh, God!” I cried out loud, “My baby! My baby!” Then, just as suddenly as I had been gripped by pain, I was gripped by a warm presence. Gripped by peace and LOVE. I just don’t have the words for it, really. I want to say it felt golden. Does that make any sense to you? The presence surrounded and filled me, just like when I had the strange out of body experience as a child. I knew Who it was, it was undeniable. I heard myself saying, “You are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life!”

You see, He rescued me again, in the most humble of places, sitting on a toilet. He is too good for me, too good for my house, let alone my bathroom, but he rescued me. He gave me an awesome God-hug when I needed it the most.

The Dimitri thing kept going pretty much in the same vein. I loved him, he loved me not. I joked that I needed a lobotomy. Just make me forget. But God had other plans.

I took my problems with Chelsea Rose to God, complaining that I wasn’t just mad at her for sassing and disrespecting me, I was concerned about the type of person she was to say such things to me in the first place. I was worried about her character. I was frustrated that He hadn’t yet taken away the anxiety that spurred her outbursts. You know what He had the nerve to say to me? That she was learning by example! How could I teach a child not to pout, slam doors, and stomp her feet if I was going to do the same? How could she learn not to worry if she saw me being eaten alive by my own worries every single day? Plus He showed me that there were times when I needed to SHUT UP! Instead of harping on whatever it was, just speak my piece, make consequences, then put it in His hands. Quit chasing her all over the house YELLING. “Choose your battles,” was a good one. I started putting what He said into practice, and the morning battles vanished after a few weeks. It was next to a miracle!

Not long after that, she got her heart broken by a stupid boy, and, of course, mine broke along with hers. But, unlike most teenaged girls, she didn’t cry for a week or so and move on. The relationship with the stupid boy kept on and on, or should I say OFF and ON, for two years. TWO YEARS! There was crying, there was weight loss, there were self-esteem issues… I was mad at God. I prayed for my daughter, after all! Come on, God! Where are you? How can you let her suffer this way? I can’t stand watching her crying all the time! I am her mommy, and I can’t help. Why won’t you do something?

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Chelsea with Jesse’s little boy, Xavier

Blush. I don’t know if you’re going to believe this, but God is actually wiser than I am. Yep, you heard it here first. GOD IS WISER. I should’ve taken a deep breath and said, “The righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all…” or, “All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.” I SHOULD’VE rested in His love.
In the midst of all her pain, Chelsea Rose turned to God for comfort. She gave her life to Him. He used her pain to save her soul. (DUH, CINDY! Mind your business and let God mind His, why don’t you?)

This too, is an ongoing process. This whole thing turns out to be a mental illness (like Nathan’s) with a much deeper root than I ever imagined when I originally penned this story. This tests my faith like nothing else.

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Remember when I told you I had put my dream house for sale as the housing market was crumbling? I thought all along that God would give me a hand and get it sold anyhow. I was a child of God! He would grant me favor. My faith soared. No offers came. I pulled the house off the market after two years with a faith that was bruised at best. Part of me was pleased, of course. I hadn’t really wanted to lose my home. But the taxes, the insurance, the upkeep…oh, Lord! Still, I decided to TRY to trust in the Lord with all my heart, and lean not on my own understanding, as the Bible persuaded me.

It was a tall order as the bills kept coming in and the money didn’t increase one iota. All I did was go with my hand out to one church or organization after another looking for someone to stop this utility shut-off or that one. Scrambling to survive, and for what?

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Me waiting to give a massage during my practicum

In June of 2007, I went back to school, this time for massage therapy. I couldn’t say it was the career of my dreams, but I had to do something, or risk leaving my children in debt. There really weren’t that many choices in the college catalog that suited me. Massage therapists in my area were making around $45 an hour, and that sounded good. So I took the plunge and worked at it with all my strength.
Knowing that doing massage full-time would be physically taxing, I put my hope in God to fix the Fibromyalgia so that I could earn enough money to get ahead. Lo and behold, somehow or other, in the fall of the same year, I tore my rotator cuff just scratching the middle of my back. For those of you who don’t know, I’m speaking of an extremely painful shoulder injury that can take anywhere from one to three years to heal. It kind of “freezes” your shoulder, making it next to impossible to move in certain directions, or do simple tasks like put your coat or seatbelt on. Just sitting in class for hours was difficult, let alone actually giving massages. But I kept going, thinking God would see my faith, be proud of me, and bring healing soon.

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Our desks were actually massage tables. Don’t I Iook thrilled to be alive? ha ha

The combination of physical and emotional affliction wore me out. On days when there were no classes, I stayed in my pajamas and would barely even answer the phone. I didn’t even want to go shopping anymore. I skipped church here and there until I finally stopped going altogether.
This was me, high on faith and sure of God’s love and provision one minute, doubting His very existence the next. Singing songs to Him in one breath, yelling at Him the next. If He was really there, where was the healing? Why weren’t the windows of heaven opening up like He promised if I would tithe? Why wouldn’t he take the desire for Dimitri out of my heart and quit allowing me to suffer over him? Why did my children have to suffer so terribly for the things I put them through as kids? How come, even though I certainly had shown Him faith, every single thing I had every attempted to do failed miserably? Would He let my massage business succeed? And even when I knew in my bones that the answers were coming, all I could say was, “Ok, WHEN are your answers coming?”

I kept thinking God was waiting for me to learn something, or He was waiting for me to do this or stop doing that, THEN the answers would come. But nothing I tried brought relief. There was only one thing I hadn’t tried: enduring. “The crucible for silver and furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.” (from Proverbs) The bible says to persevere under trial is to grow and mature. You can whine, pout, cry, stomp your feet, yell, scream, tell God you hate His guts, plead with Him… but there is no way around the endurance thing. You just have to do it.

I can’t tell you how many times I warned Him, “I can’t take anymore!” But I woke up the next day in the same skin with all the same heartaches and troubles, and my eyes on the snare. I woke up grumbling. I woke up mumbling. I woke up detesting the fact that I woke up. Then one day I woke up and forced myself to say, “Thank you for this day. Thanks for my home, my car, my kids, my grandkids. Thank you for the trees outside. I love trees. Thanks for music. Thanks that you’ll help me through this day…” I took my eyes off the snare (Took ‘em off, put ‘em on, took ‘em off… hey, it takes practice) and decided to try to remember the God I serve.

Funny, even when I knew I was in the refinement process, and I began to cooperate, I thought maybe it would be like a month or two and then on to the fun stuff. Nope. This story ain’t over yet.

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