Posted in Faith, Family

Shaken to the core

Recently I had something happen in my life that shook me to my core. 

Normally this type of feeling is spurred on by something happening outside of my control (c’mon ladies…you can nod here), or when I am incapable of understanding something that takes time to process.  It usually involves me processing my faith again at another level, and sometimes it can be pain-inducing.  I can only count on one hand the number of times I’ve been shaken to my core, but it seems to be happening a lot more lately. 

Since last fall’s private retreat, I’ve been on a healing journey with Christ, and He is walking me through some incredibly painful memories, for the purpose of joy and healing, but also to address my issue with lack of trust in Him in certain areas.  And I only have a few sisters in Christ I know of, who welcome these moments of healing and pain, to get to the other side.  I’m not sure we wake up every morning saying, “Bring on the pain!”  We just pray, “Bring on the day, and whatever that means, I’m willing to walk beside you still…”

Being in a stepfamily, there are many opportunities for miscommunication, feelings being hurt, unintentional heartache, and hurt emotions.  I have two stepdaughters.  Both girls are in their teens, are progressing in school and their goals, and we talk about everything under the sun.  Normally… 

Somehow in the commotion of life, I was out of the loop on a planned event that was coming up for them.  It’s not uncommon.  Communication with exes aren’t always the best.  And we’re all human.  But once the event was revealed, I had another obligation the same night and I was unable to attend the event with them.  My issue wasn’t only NOT being able to attend the important event with them, it was how Satan twisted my unavailability to go (and the lack of communication) right to my core lie:

That I don’t matter

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I can’t explain how my emotions looked on the surface, but if you have ever seen a two year old’s drawing with no consistency whatsoever, you can imagine how my feelings were that evening.  Not being included on the invite wasn’t the issue.  It was how I slowly got the time and date of the event, from people who weren’t family, and from an email that wasn’t sent to me. 

I wasn’t even included. 

And if you’re a stepparent who cares deeply about the children you’ve grown to love, you want to be present for as much as possible.  Granted there will be times you can’t be, and the kids don’t hold things like that over your head especially when you do attend things with them.  You are putting your time and money into them, even when it’s not received or cared about.  It’s for the greater good, that someday because of something you’ve done/said/contributed to/prayed about/etc., you have made an impact in their life and it’s going to MATTER!  Darn, there’s that word again. 

I don’t know how many people struggle with the negative self-talk that seems to plague so many of us.  But for those of you who are aware of it, the issue becomes when the emotions rise, there’s no way out of the situation, and we just have to roll with it, that we are pushed into the arena of faith.  It wasn’t my first instinct this time.  Lately, I’ve been progressing toward a direction where the moment that initial anger begins to rise, Christ stops it, I calm down, and choose another route.  But the other evening sent me to the dark place. 

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The place where all I have around me are hurtful words, hateful stares, and a crooked smile from the one who loves every minute she gets to cause me pain.  And I camped there for a bit.  I couldn’t process.  I couldn’t even hold my hurt back.  I blew up and said stupid remarks that reflected my hurt but came across as attacking words.  I blamed, and I raised my voice.  My family left the house, and I folded laundry.  And then my night began with my planned event that took me from being with the rest of my family.  And as I stood there, putting out food for my guests, I held back tears and started praying.  I have learned that when my emotions get out of control, the best thing to do is take all of it to God.  Holding back from Him was only going to hurt me more. 

So I was honest with Him. I told Him that I was pissed.  That I couldn’t believe that this far into our marriage, that something so little could set me off just right, that I wasn’t able to define the actual hurt, and that I was upset about something out of my control- which is exactly where HE wants me to be.  And then I decided to just let Him take it.  The hurt, the lie, the anger.  And I proceeded to have a fantastic evening.  Instead of festering on the hurt and heartache, I was able to hand it over to the One who died for all of this crazy stupidity anyway. 

I have two lessons learned from this:

ONE: Realize what is really necessary. 

A girlfriend of mine said earlier this week in a prayer meeting that after her mother passed, it gave her a perspective of life, and that a lot of things we prioritize sometimes aren’t really necessary.  Many things don’t really matter other than the time spent with people.  And I was able to witness the truth of her words the very next day.  In the scope of life, one instance of being passed over wasn’t going to define me, or make me feel inadequate in a marriage that I know I am very well loved in.  One instance of not being included didn’t mean that my stepdaughters didn’t want me there, or that the miscommunication was intentional.  If I let Satan win that day, I would’ve believed all of that.

TWO: My reaction matters. 

Emotions fluctuate.  This event was a reminder that sometimes in life, things are beyond my control, and the mark of a Christian is continuing to love through pain, and letting go so God can handle it.  How does my reaction define my heart’s stance on whether or not I am willing to let Christ handle something?  Do I trust God to handle my broken heart?  Do I allow Him to have control when I feel so out of control? 

I think it’s important to realize that life triggers SO MANY DIFFERENT EMOTIONS.  We tend to realize the bad ones because they have an effect on those around us.  There’s always forgiveness, there’s always grace, and there’s always communication that needs to take place so hurting hearts don’t continue to hurt other hearts.  But there’s that first step of admitting it too. 

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It’s a beautiful thing to ask God to help us be aware of our emotions, and what sets them off, so we can go to Him to help us handle them.  He gets it.  He’s taken on human flesh so He could experience the pain and heartache that He died for.  God knows the pain that we cause each other, intentionally and unintentionally.  It’s why He came to Earth to die and be resurrected so we could have hope to move past the heartache and hurt.

My cousin once put the crux of the Crucifixion into perspective for me by saying, “Grace, He hung on the cross and bore the sins of the person who was murdered and the murderer, the woman neglected and the adulteress, the person being raped, and the rapist…”  We tend to see things from a judgemental perspective, but the truth is that hurting people hurt people.  Are there victims in situations?  Absolutely.  But acknowledging a hurt, and forgiving it gives us the perspective of Christ.  Hurt happens.  Sometimes intentionally and other times unintentionally.  Either way, we must respond the same.  He died so we could provide the grace to each other.  This life is not all there is.  There is much more planned, and much more to come.  Holding onto hurts will just prevent the growth He is trying to accomplish in us. 

This week, we celebrate the life of Jesus, our Lord who took on every painful moment that has happened, IS happening, and WILL HAPPEN.  He entered into humanity to conquer death and provide LIFE to the fullest.  The same God who walked the Israelites through the desert and provided for them in their impatience and distrust, is the same God who listens to my anger prayers and my cry for stability when my emotions take over.  I was shaken to the core by something so menial, yet HUGE to me, because of my healing journey.  I choose to forgive, to hand it over to Christ, and let Him dispose of it for me. 

He really is LOVE.  He really is GRACE.  He really is FORGIVENESS.  And He really is RISEN!! 

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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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Posted in Faith

Encounter (coming soon)

Recently I was able to attend a women’s retreat in Pennsylvania for a five-day getaway, to review a book, work out some issues and ask God for healing.  The exact details are not necessary to tell my story, but the healing that resulted was intense, and that is what I intend to share with you.  I have been in prayer about the direction of my life, and a lot was revealed since the end of summer for me.  When I have a moment to sit down, I will be pouring my heart across this keyboard again to share something with you that I hope will encourage and strengthen you in your journey with Christ.  It is something that I do not wish to rush through, but something that is meant to be shared with LIFE in each word.  So, when that time comes, and I know it will be soon [ 😉 ], stay tuned for more…in the meantime, continue to build each other up…press on toward that goal!

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