Posted in Faith

Promise Fulfilled

In the beginning, GOD created the Heavens and the Earth (Genesis 1). He wasn’t alone in the process. He was beside Jesus Christ (as John 1 affirms) and the Holy Spirit who was hovering, ready to breathe LIFE into the creation. This proves the Trinity was present, yet One (Psalm 104:30, Job 33:4, Colossians 1:16).

As God spoke, things BECAME. Things came into being that had not previously existed. And as He said them, they were.

And after God created light, atmosphere, land and vegetation, He went on to fill the sky, waters and land. And finally, in the midst of the Garden of Eden, which had a river that divided and became the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates rivers, He created man.

This man was created with a formed body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit. His form wasn’t alive until the Lord God breathed into Adam’s nostrils to give him life (Genesis 2:7). And he was not a robot. He wasn’t designed to take and follow orders. Adam would make choices throughout his earthly life to either deviate from instruction, or obey out of love. This is, in fact, an act of love from our Creator. Knowing some will reject and deny Him, He still created and sustains their lives today.

God formed man from dust, and placed him in the Garden of Eden to share the responsibility of maintaining His space. The garden was protected and secure. It had vegetation and trees bearing fruit that would sustain the man and animals. God saw that even after allowing Adam to share in the creativity of naming animals, it wasn’t good for him to be alone. One might say, “He wasn’t alone, he had a zoo in the garden with him.” But God meant that there was no one like Adam that would be relatable to him. And the Lord stated to Jesus and the Holy Spirit that it wasn’t good, Adam would need a helper.

Out of man, while he was in a very deep sleep, God created a woman, and not just as a separate being with His words. Woman was formed from the rib of Adam that the Lord took while Adam was asleep. Her body and form was different from Adam and she would complement him in a way he wouldn’t yet understand. She was originally a part of him, and formed from him. When Adam awoke from his sleep, he was overjoyed! After naming animal after animal, he saw that there was a being that was like him!! And he was grateful as his words describe in Genesis 2:23 state.

I’m unsure of the timing between Genesis 2 and 3, but in the Holy Bible, the Fall comes rather quickly. The woman is deceived by a serpent in the Garden. All he asks is, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?'” When reading in Scripture the original discussion between God and Adam (the woman wasn’t yet created), God told Adam that he could eat from any tree in the garden (Genesis 2:16), “…but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you should surely die.”

Whether Adam shared the exact words of God with the woman, and how, we don’t know. But we do know that her response was not what was asked. She stated that they were not to eat of the tree, nor touch it, or they would die. And the serpent was quick to lie, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Doubt.

Immediately, the woman was considering that if she won’t die, what is the harm in knowing good and evil? She looks at the fruit which is pleasing to the eye (isn’t all sin?) and believes for the first time that God might not have been truthful with her. So she eats of the tree. And gives some of the delicious fruit to Adam who doesn’t hesitate or correct, refuse or knock out of her hand.

Immediately and together, they went from complete union with their Creator, to their eyes being opened. We’re unsure where the serpent goes, but they knew they were naked and tried to cover themselves with fig leaves.

And God walked through the garden, and as He approached them, they hid. Why would they hide from their Creator? Why would they clothe themselves when previously their forms hadn’t included shame? Because sin had entered the garden. Death was now imminent for them and all of humanity.

In the next few moments, God calls for them, they hide and eventually reveal that they hid because they knew they were afraid. This passage makes sense to us because even as children, when we knew we’d be caught for something and there was no way to cover it up, what is the first thing we do? We hide. As if that solves the problem. But the intricate detail of hiding here and something to note of significance, was that this was something our ancestors would never have done. Until this moment, they had been in perfect fellowship with their Creator. The bond was broken, and God knew it.

He asked questions to invite them to repent, to participate in owning up to what happened, but immediately God is met with blame and accusation by both parties involved. The serpent is never asked what happened. God is fully aware and now, as a result, there must be punishment for what has happened.

This is the first time we see God extend grace instead of complete destruction. And as He offered Adam and the woman (she’s not named Eve until after the curse) time to explain what happened, He showed His patience. He does the same with us. He waits for us. He allows us time. He knows we want to cover up our sin and not address it, but the fact then remains the same now: Sin must be dealt with. And while God would’ve been justified to allow them to have to pay for our own sin, He had another idea.

God begins His response to their disobedience and He starts with the serpent:

“Cursed are you, above all livestock and all wild animals. You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. HE WILL CRUSH YOUR HEAD and you will strike his heel.

GENESIS 3:14

Did you see it? The declaration from God above that a plan is already in place?

As God delivers the punishment to the serpent, He states that Death is coming for the serpent who brought sin into the world by tempting the disobedience of God’s created humans. God will send a Deliverer and though the serpent would strike repeatedly to try to defeat this person, the Deliverer will deliver the FINAL BLOW. He would not just wound the serpent but He would CRUSH HIS HEAD.

Throughout Scripture, we learn so much: about our history, about those who went before us; we see their sins laid bare in the text. We aren’t looking at humans who did better than us, we see humans who made choices: either to serve God and follow Him in relationship, or reject being His creation and therefore create their own lives with consequence. This has not changed in over 6000 years. It is true of all of us today.

Where humanity is given a choice to be lorded over with love, or have self-rule, because of sin, humans choose power for themselves. And there is a consequence. Scripture explains that the place or state of Hell was created for the devil and his angels. The devil has followers who believe his lies, and desire power for themselves. They have access to humans today to influence, breathe lies and tempt. And humans EVERY SINGLE DAY still have the choice to allow the temptation to become sin, or override it with righteousness and say no. But apart from God, we will stand in our sin and be sent to Hell.

Don’t believe me? Think everyone is good until proven guilty? We are not good people who become bad. We are bad people who only have hope for goodness through God. Scripture states we are conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5). Through the bloodline of our parents, sin is passed down. So there’s no hope to be sinless at birth. We already are infected without cure.

Scripture tells us that only God knows the hearts of humans (1 Samuel 16:7) and we are more sin sick than we realize.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

JEREMIAH 17:9

So what was God’s plan in the Garden? Temptation presents two options EVERY time – obey it, or reject it. Sin is the act of agreeing with the temptation and not slaying it. And sin is rebellion against God.

We see in Genesis 6 that God was grieved after sin took over. Multiple marriages took place, women were treated as lesser (part of the curse for the woman for her part in the eating of the fruit – Genesis 3:16b), unrestrained anger caused murder, shame and lying. It grew and grew, and God sent the flood. He allowed eight people to begin again (Noah and his family). Again this is another act of grace on the part of God – He could’ve wiped out humanity wholly, but His plan was already in motion.

God’s words through human authors throughout Scripture give us the lineage of humanity, lists of genealogies for the purpose of explaining the line for the Messiah, the Promised Deliverer. Eve’s sons were not the Deliverer as much as she had hoped, but through one woman, He would come. And throughout the Old Testament, we see types of Christ, moments where the Promise is not forgotten and clues to who He will be. Hope is passed down from generation to generation – praying for deliverance from sin.

And finally, in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, we see God send an angel to a young virgin named Mary. The angel explains God has chosen her and promises her that she would be the mother of the Messiah. She accepts the role, and even in the face of disgrace at not being married, carries the child to term and gives birth to Jesus. Joseph, Jesus’ human father, stays with her and protects her and Jesus (among other children) at the Lord’s leading.

At the age of 30 years old, Jesus begins a public ministry: teaching counter-cultural truths regarding who the Father is and who HE is. He ruffles the feathers of the religious, stirs the hearts of the ungodly, and teaches the masses who earnestly seek Hope and Restoration. He begins to open eyes of the blind, heals the sick, brings to life those who have passed on, all at their appointed times. And as He preaches Hope, the religious and political leaders see power slowly slipping away. They cannot have upheaval and unrest. Something must be done.

A plot to kill Jesus forms, and secret meetings take place among religious leaders and political leaders. They cannot allow this man to create hope and cause a rising up against Rome! Judas, known as the Betrayer, never decided in his heart that Jesus was the Messiah. He walked with Jesus as one of His disciples, heard him, was certainly intrigued by him, but never declared Him to be who He truly was. And when the opportunity presented itself to make money by turning over the one most feared, he agreed to the sin in his heart.

Crucifixion was a nasty way to die. As Jesus was finally arrested and found guilty by the crowd screaming, “Crucify Him!”, God’s plan was still set in motion. Remember, Jesus is part of the Trinity of God. He was fully God at the time of Creation, and yet fully man when He was born of the virgin Mary. His part in fulfilling the Promise of Redemption for humanity would take Jesus agreeing to it and going through with it.

Consider Jesus as Paul writes to the Phillipians:

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

PHILIPPIANS 2:6-8

Jesus endured the cross, because God had chosen THIS to be the plan to redeem humanity. Were there other ways this could be accomplished? Certainly! But we are not God. He designed the only way for complete redemption and punishment of sin to be the dying of SELF in the form of Jesus. And Jesus out of love for God and for us, went through with it.

Jesus died a human death by way of Roman crucifixion and was laid in a tomb offered by Joseph of Arimathea. Soldiers had pierced His side, and in another way of fulfilling prophetic Scripture, did not break His legs before retrieving His body from the cross. He breathed His last, an earthquake shook the ground, dead people came out of their graves, the temple curtain was torn from top to bottom, and Jesus died.

If this was truly the Messiah, where is the crushing of the head that was promised? Where is fulfillment of Scripture and redemption for those bound by sins’ chains?

In Matthew 27:62, the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate, afraid that Jesus would do something out of the ordinary. They reminded Pilate that Jesus said He would rise again after three days, so they had been given permission to secure the tomb, in fear that it might happen. And even amidst their attempts to keep Jesus dead, the unthinkable happened.

The crescendo of our Lord’s perfect plan begins at dawn of the first day of the week.

As Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (followers of Jesus) went to look at the tomb, they arrive to find it open and an angel sitting there! The angel reassures them not to be afraid and states, “He is not here; HE has risen, just as He said!” The women rush off to share this news! He is ALIVE!! He died, but He’s been given breath again! And because He lives, He promises those who believe in Him the same eternal life.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

JOHN 11:25-26

So much of Scripture builds toward this moment.

As the Lord begins His story to us in the Holy Bible and the Torah, by teaching us of our origin and our swift decline into death through sin, He presents an opportunity for us to be restored. He promises a Messiah, a King who will defeat the sin that holds us here on Earth, and promises an end to all decay and death.

At Christmastime, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, because we know God kept His promise to send a Messiah, but friends, don’t miss the significance of Easter!

Without the resurrection, where is our Hope?

Jesus was promised since the beginning of Creation, to be the One who will one day destroy all sin and death. He was promised to CRUSH THE HEAD of the serpent, who will no longer have control over us, will no longer be able to tempt us with thoughts, images or ideas, will no longer be able to lead us down the path to eternal death in Hell. By Jesus’ death and resurrection, He defeated the serpent and crushed its head!!

Though Jesus remained on the Earth after His resurrection, Paul records the following:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

1 CORINTHIANS 15:3-8

Before the beginning of the literal church, Jesus commissioned His disciples and was taken to Heaven, where He sits at the right hand of God.

Revelation 1 is the beginning of a prophetic work from John while exiled on Patmos. An angel shows John a vision of a “son of Man” who is clothed in a robe, with a golden sash around his waist, his hair white as snow, his eyes like blazing fire, his feet bronze like a furnace, his voice like rushing waters.

Our Savior, will return to Earth again, and when He does, it will not be like the first time. The next time He comes, will be for judgement of sin on the Earth and its inhabitants, which means you, me and every human being ever created.

Without the shed blood of Jesus covering us, we will be exposed before God with all of our sin and we will have to give an account of every rebellious thought and action. I tremble just thinking of what I deserve. The Day of the Lord is real, and imminent.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

MATTHEW 25:31-46

We will all be judged and it really will boil down to whether we heard the Gospel and believed, or rejected Jesus and want to stand in our accolades. The Scripture above shows the depth Jesus went to save and reverse the curse of sin. All we have to do is believe that God sent the Promise and believe that Jesus is our sacrificial lamb, the One who stood in our place. Because He lives, we have the same gift from God offered to us.

God, Our Creator and Heavenly Father, made a way to live eternally with Him.

Will you choose Him? We all have been given a CHOICE.

Posted in Faith

Ripple effects and warm fuzzies

What’s the best moment in teaching?

Most teachers would probably say the “light bulb moments”. After all, you’re connecting with a student and they are finally “getting it”. Isn’t that what makes the job the most satisfying?

And I would half-agree. Because seeing the “light bulb moments” brings a sense of pride over the one teaching. To know that someone heard and understood something that was said? It’s a victory moment. And these don’t happen necessarily every day: the actual visualization of an a-ha moment, where there’s a head nod, or a student actually says, “Ah” or “oh”. No, these moments are a delight when they take place. Savor them.

I only half-agree with the “light bulb moments” answer because though I do love seeing the comprehension take place as wheels spin behind the eyes, there is another moment that takes the cake.

The best moments in teaching for me, are when I see a drop become a ripple when there is a word or a story from another student and suddenly the wave catches. When I can start a question and see the ripple effect in the room, I have the opportunity to sit back and watch God do what He does:

Spread. Multiply. Fan. Flourish. Engage. Invite. Connect.

I teach Bible study at my home church on Tuesday evenings and as a leader with the spiritual gift of teaching, I know the weight that is on my shoulders. Yes, I have the honor of sharing the truth of the gospel with women in our church once a week, and my hope is always that the participants “catch” the message God has for us to get that night. But I also need to stay true to Scripture, not add or subtract from it, and lead the ladies to read and dig deeper. I am accountable for every word spoken in Jesus’ name.

My goal is to stay humble, read the text, get the conversation rolling and let the Holy Spirit take over. But not every week follows that pattern. And it’s okay. The Holy Spirit is not a sideshow act in a circus. He is the main event as we read and study God’s Word. Each week, we grow and seek Him more and more. I don’t need a sticker at the end of the night or a sign from Heaven to know I’m doing the right things, just an obedient heart to continue to follow my call, and a desire to let Him lead.

But, I’ll admit I get emotional when during a question, someone speaks up and begins to start a dialogue, and I can feel the temperature in the room change. It gets warmer.

Fences come down.

The other ladies lean in closer.

The speaker opens up a little more.

Words spill out and heads start to nod in agreement.

Tears well up, arms reach out and comfort is extended.

Bonding happens so quickly sometimes, and one of the most beautiful things to witness is human compassion. Empathy from one sister to another. When we realize in the course of time we spend together that we’re not in competition, we’re united in Christ. We don’t know all of the answers, but we will find them together. And when someone opens up about something so deep, to have other empathetic women nearby to listen (really listen) and encourage each other, show grace, mercy and love to the speaker, it warms my heart and spreads warm fuzzies like wildfire.

And I think, This is what it’s like when the Holy Spirit is fanned. This is what it’s like when we don’t hold back from our childlike responses. This is what uninhabited love is among believers. This is what it’s like to sense our Lord smiling on us, for loving beyond our own pain, and for reaching out to step into someone else’s.

It is so incredibly beautiful to witness, and I find almost every week, that there are precious moments tucked in each encounter during teaching. They might not be as glaring as tonight’s event was, but each moment of connection and compassion gets me excited about what it will be like to be in the presence of Jesus – unhindered from performance, comparison, expectations or perception.

Raw beauty is not an image in a magazine. It is seen in the vulnerable hearts of women who are able to offer something out of their own deficit, simply because they know and believe that Jesus wants them to give. It’s recognizing that the Lord is so present when we are gathered together and loves when we are united.

Jesus prayed for our unity in the garden before He was killed.

Found in John 17: 20-23 
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—  I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Imagine, the King of Kings humbly asking His Heavenly Father for unity for those who would follow Him and bear His name. It matters that much! And in this time of my life, in our society where everyone is offended so easily or so quick to judge others without hearing someone’s story, I love the teaching moments where I get to witness women breathe life into other women.

We all need it. We all have lies we fight every day from the enemy:

I’m not good enough.

I don’t matter.

I have nothing to say.

God won’t come through for me.

I’m worthless.

I’m not worth fighting for.

Etc.

Women have a gift of nurturing that is unmatched, when walls come down. And it’s such a remarkable way of God showing us through each other that we can see beauty in each other, even amidst pain and heartache.

Tonight, we started a new study. I had a few veterans and some new blood in the room. And before I left my home, I prayed as I always do: to let the Lord bring whomever needed to be there, and to help me help them find Him. “Keep me humble, so they can see You, Lord, and teach us what You want us to know.”

Would you believe: He always comes through on His end? He’s so faithful!

And yet, tonight, there was a different spark in our room. I got the sense that the room was uninhibited from the beginning of our class. I went over the logistics of our inductive study, read about John Mark, prayed and went to my planned setup. And when I sensed the Holy Spirit taking over, I relented.

Those are the best teaching moments.

All Glory to God!!

Posted in Faith

As the deer

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I love wildlife. I grew up in the city and still live in the city, so it’s not often that get to see animals that intrigue me. Recently my husband was switched to night shift, and because I work at home (and am a night owl), I switched my work schedule to work the same hours. He leaves at night, and I set out bird food, which inevitably gets eaten by neighboring deer instead. If I’m lucky enough, when I take my break, I usually peek outside and see a few of them under the feeders. And if you’re worried about the birds not getting enough, have no worries, there are plenty of mourning doves hanging from my barren trees with their cups overflowing, if you know what I mean…they’re well fed in these parts. 😉

I don’t shoo the deer away, ever. I love to just watch them: their hesitation in the front yard when a car goes by and they sense danger, their playfulness with each other, their menacing nature when another deer who isn’t part of their group comes to join them for their midnight snack.

Just tonight, I saw two does at the feeder. One of them was a little taller and was tipping the feeder to spill the seed. The smaller of the two was underneath to catch what she could. At times, some of the seed was landing on the smaller one’s back, and that didn’t stop the larger one from bending down and eating off of her partner in crime. It was quite comical!

It’s currently 27 degrees here in northeastern Ohio, and they have come to bed down in my yard yet again. It’s just after 5:00am and I’ve snuck out of the office a few times this evening (morning?) to watch them. There are SEVEN deer in our backyard, and they are in a line around the perimeter like sentinels. It’s beautiful. I would take a picture if I could, but I don’t wish to disturb them.

And while I’ve been watching them, God brought to mind a song I learned in grade school called As the Deer.

It’s based off of Psalm 42:1.

“As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after You.”

For some reason, the Lord has continually placed these magnificent creatures near me. He knows my admiration for them. Tonight is not the first time I’ve been super close to them (though now at home, there is glass between us). A few years ago, when God was calling me back to Him, He sent me a deer in the woods of Pennsylvania. It was a gorgeous moment, one I’ve written about previously. You can read about it here.

This early morning, as I sit in the dark, watching these precious animals, I am reminded how my soul indeed longs just for the Lord. Most recently, our church has gone through corporate fasting. Learning that practice has opened my eyes to a longing inside of me that I had pressed down. Taking time out of my day to read God’s Word and to get to know Him deeper than I’ve ever thought possible has become a reality. My days have changed. My heart has become so full, my emotions have been restored, and my duty to my relationships is paramount. I will write more in depth on that later. For now, I’m focusing on putting my focus on God.

As believers, it is so easy to get caught up in the mundane and the everyday to-do list. Is that really what the Lord requires? Our setting of tasks and distractions from Him? Our heartache when we can’t measure up, or our feelings of failure when we can’t “do it all”?

Dear one, I am writing to you. You were made for so much more. You were made to be loved and to love in return. You were made to seek Your heavenly Father and find Him where He promised. You were meant to live a life of fullness, Jesus promises us that!! It is attainable. So why do we keep chasing someone else’s dream, or someone else’s plan for our lives? Why do we not go to the Lord when our cup is empty? I believe the enemy wants us to miss the opportunities for stopping for a drink of water by the brook. I think life just wants to throw itself at us and trip us up, so we can curse God and blame Him for everything that is going wrong. And yet, spending time with Him each day, I’m realizing that is exactly what is happening. And we are responsible for how we respond.

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So, my friend, may I invite you to grab your cup, and stop by the brook to get a drink of the Living Water? Take a rest, and absorb what this verse means. We are meant to thirst for our Lord. He fills us in a way that this world, our careers, our paychecks, our agendas, our material possessions, our relationships, and our desires never can. We are like the deer, longing for the Lord, and if we’re not, we need to learn from our furry friends. Stop and rest, be in His presence, and you will find long-lasting refreshment.

Love and hugs,
G 🙂

Posted in Faith

Encounter- Being Romanced

In the woods of Du Bois, Pennsylvania, I encountered God in a way I’ve never encountered Him before.

Panoramic shot taken by Grace Hejnal, October 27, 2013 in DuBois, PA
Panoramic shot taken by Grace Hejnal, October 27, 2013 in DuBois, PA

Leaves were changing and the air was becoming cooler.  It was fall 2013, and I had been given the gift of time and money from my husband to leave home from October 24-29, to go through an intense personal spiritual journey with four other women from my home church, and get away to a secluded place to spend time with God.  We studied, cried, laughed, studied some more, answered deep questions, studied more and took personal time.  In between, we drank coffee, shared personal stories, cooked for each other, sat around in our pajamas, and gave each other personal space.

On Sunday morning, October 27, in lieu of church, our leader requested that we go to a place on the grounds of Treasure Lake that could allow us to have our quiet time with God, and to ask some deep questions our hearts had, because she was sure that He would answer them for us.  I had been on retreats before, so my personal “go-to” was my Bible and a journal in hand, but this time, I felt like I just wanted music.  I decided on a walk.  To where, I had no idea, but I knew I had an hour and a half to kill for my own personal “church”, so I figured I would just start walking and end up wherever the road took me.

Our leader took her earbuds and music, and headed left from our front door.  Another woman took her journal and went in another direction.  I put on my tennis shoes, coat and grabbed my iPod touch.  I checked my phone for the time, and headed out of the cabin.

Starting my journey, I prayed, “Lord, I want to experience you.  I love being outside, and I want to see you in a new way.   Thank you for this time with you this morning.”  

Going left, the road wound to the left, then right, then down, and I thought, “This will be interesting to just follow the road.”

I hit Play on my “Power in the Blood” playlist and then selected Shuffle.

Music filled my ears, and I tuned out the cold, brisk air that was hitting my face, and started walking.  I followed the curvy road for about five minutes, listening to Chris Tomlin, and then out of the corner of my eye, I saw something to the left of me.  I had passed a dumpster which was located in the back of one of the cabins, and when I had passed it, there was nothing there.  But when I turned back to see what my peripheral vision had caught, I saw the back part of a deer.  It had its nose to the grass and after sniffing slightly, it started to move forward, on the opposite side of the building I was on.

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My interest was piqued.  I grabbed my phone from my pocket and made sure all sounds were off, then turned the camera on.

So I began to modify my journey and I walked back around the building, careful to walk slowly.  The grass still had dew from the morning, and it had covered my tennis shoes already.  I wanted to be quiet, as not to startle the deer, and I wanted to know where the deer was going.

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He led me down a path that was not a path.  It was the center of the grass, in between the townhomes located on the property and he didn’t go in a straight line either.  I still listened to my praise music, but I had the volume low in my ears in case something scared the deer and I would have to reroute.  I followed slowly and tried not to step hard.  I was about twenty feet behind him.  And the whole time, I kept praying, “This is so cool, Lord, I wonder where he’s going…”

When we reached the bottom of the hill, the deer started to walk left a bit, and I must have made a noise in the grass.

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He stopped and looked back directly at me.  I held my breath, and didn’t move.  This shot was taken from my mid-abdomen and I was able to catch him looking directly at me, without having him get startled.  After about a full minute, he began his journey to the woods again.

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Another silent prayer: “Lord, is this you?  You knew that I would follow a deer, because I love your animals.  And you know I am curious.  Did you send him for me?  Is he taking me someplace special?”

Silence.  And stillness.

About this time, I was about twenty-five feet away from him, and walking even slower as the grass was super wet.  I didn’t want him to catch me, but I stayed behind him.  He was walking to the entrance of a wooded area.  The deer made it to the entrance and then it appeared that he went downward.

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I quickened my steps, checked my watch (I had been following him for a half hour already, and the townhomes were no longer in sight), and continued forward to the entrance.  Stepping over the log that was laying on the ground at the entrance, I scanned left and right.  The deer was not to be seen.  I tried to comprehend what I could remember.  When he was at the entrance, it looked as though he went over the log and down, but stepping over the log, the height of the ground did not change.  Where did he go?  The deer had completely disappeared.

“Lord, you led me here, didn’t you?”

Peace.

“Wow, what is this place?”

“Sanctuary.”

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Stepping into the wooded area, the bright orange, yellow and brown leaves were still clinging to the trees that canopied the entire area.  I took a few pictures with my phone, and then began walking.  The area I was in, was surrounded by trees, hills, and ledges, and they were covered with fallen leaves like a beautiful fall carpet.  It was a sanctuary.  There was a rock seat that I sat on, and prayed.

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I thanked God for the time to get away, relax and have my perspective changed about the women who had come.  We didn’t previously know each other very well, and had only had small encounters with each other at church and in small group studies on Wednesday evenings.

Over the course of our time together during that retreat, we admitted our fear at coming to an unknown place and spending so much time with people we didn’t know, and God changed all of that.  I thanked Him for the time to be still, to see the deer, and to be led by it.

He told me to explore, so I did.  I climbed some of the hills, took pictures, climbed down and walked further into the woods, sat and took pictures, and then at one point, after I said again that I wanted to experience Him, the following happened.

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I was walking forward down a small path inside of the wooded area, and I heard in my spirit, “Get low”, so as I was standing, I bent my knees.  He said, “Lower”, so I bent my knees even lower.

Then, the previously still, soundless wooded area seemed to come to life.  

To the right of me, I heard wind starting, and I turned my head, keeping my knees bent as requested.  I saw leaves dance on the trees with the wind’s movement, and slowly they cascaded to the left of me.  I felt the rush of wind go over me, and I closed my eyes as I felt the air pass.  And then the leaves continued to dance.  It was like a heavenly hug.

I will never forget that.

The feeling of the wind passing over me, the sound of the wind, the movement of color.  And then as my eyes watched the leaves to the left of me, where the wind seemed to stop, a deer began walking.  How long he had been there, I had no idea.  He looked smaller than the one God had used to lure me to the sanctuary.

 “Be still.”  

So, I stood, holding my breath again, and this time, the deer passed five feet in front of me, from the left to the right.  He didn’t stop to smell me, or get startled, he just slowly walked.  I have no idea how he didn’t sense me.

I was in awe, and wanted to shout from the treetops, but didn’t want to lose this precious moment.

The study over the course of the retreat that we had been working on, is called Captivating by Stasi Eldredge.  In her book, she explains that God has placed desires in our hearts as women: to be seen as beautiful, to have an irreplaceable role, and to be romanced.  These core desires are because God Himself has these desires, and since we are created in His image, we have these desires.

Praying while in the sanctuary, I learned that God is beautiful.  The leaves, the hills, the deer, the brook, the trails, the unbeaten paths, all of it is from Him.  We assume beauty is something of femininity, but it is of God.  Beauty is not just women.  It is the desire to produce something that can be delighted in, and appreciated.  Even when men work on cars or airplanes, they name them female names, because the objects are delighted in and appreciated.  Beauty is something we are all capable of producing.

God knows that I love adventures.  As a child, I never hesitated to explore the woods, ride my bike to new paths, and get away from the city streets.  I loved the woods, nature and quiet.  There was an area at the end of my street that would run behind some homes.  And at the end of it was a creek with trees all around.  I dubbed it, “My Walden” and would write and journal there as a teenager.  That has never left. me.  And He has used that desire within me to continue to go on adventures, with my husband in our marriage, in our faith, in our lives.

And the gift from the Sunday morning of my retreat was that God romances us.  Think of the many times in a fairy tale that a woman waits for someone to romance her, to be seen from across the room and make eye contact.  Many women want that feeling of being desired.

God drew me toward Him.  He answered my prayer for an encounter, to see Him in a new way.

He knew I would follow an animal.  And to follow that deer to the entrance of the place that God wanted to have “church” with me that morning was solely His doing.  He took me to a place that had a tree seat (not man made) and I was able to sit, listen to my music in there, be quiet, explore the many areas within the wooded area, and then to witness another deer pass directly in front of me.

I would never have been able to see that part of Him, had I not stepped away from the city, my crazy schedule, or my life.  I needed to get away, have a new perspective of Him, and He was willing to meet me in that place.  He wanted me to see how much He loves me, that He knows color excites me, and that He knew what it would take to get me to a place where He could romance my heart, and reassure me that He is real and loving, good and true, and aching to step into the empty places in our hearts that other desires have left bankrupt.

He desires that for all of us.  He wants to meet us in the places of our hearts that are so empty and alone.  He wants to heal the wounds that have left scars, and drained us emotionally, and tested our faith in Him.  But He wants us to take the first step.  It has to be because we desire to let the great Healer do the work.  He is our Jehovah-Rapha, “the God who heals”.

He won’t force us to do anything we don’t want to, because He has given all of us the ability to make our own choices.  But He will call you again and again and again and again, because He has a relentless pursuit for your heart.  The love that He has is incomparable to anything humans provide for each other.  We get just a small taste of the romancing that is offered to us by our King.  Human love is beautiful and adventurous, and it is because of our Father that we love and desire those things.  But the ultimate healing of our humanity is through what God did through the work of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection to make sure we know it.

I pray that all of you are able to have an encounter with Jesus.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be on a hilltop in Pennsylvania, with no other distractions (although I highly recommend shutting off the smartphone with notifications to hear Him more clearly).  It needs to be a sincere question to our Heavenly Father.  “May I encounter you?  May I see you?”  He will gladly answer yes.

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