Category Archives: Beside Still Waters

Lessons learnt during my walk as a Christian

Have courage, Walk in Integrity

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After the storm, an eagle soars…

 

Whenever the Lord starts giving me scriptures about trusting Him, it’s a sure-fire certainty that I am about to be tested in this area. The last two weeks seem to have lasted at least a month, but I rejoice that along with the testing come answers, and lessons that amaze in the simplicity of their revelation.

 

One of the hangovers of the victim mentality is a feeling of abandonment, and I am particularly susceptible to these negative emotions when I am tired. Of course the person who gets the blame at these times is God: where are You, why are You not helping me out here? Why no answers? Why must I always fight for everything? I am so tired, so very, very tired!

It was with sinking heart a couple of Fridays ago, after a particularly gruelling battle with bureaucracy, that I realised I was descending into this pit, one I had not been in for a long, long time and I really did not want to go there again, longing instead to be where God is, secure in the knowledge of His love. I battled with my thoughts all day, with the fear that threatened to overwhelm once more, the knowledge that while people seem to think I am strong, I really am extraordinarily weak. The feeble hands hung down, the loins remained un-girded as I silently did battle with my Maker.

Late that afternoon I stopped prevaricating, and sat down with Bible in hand, ready for a “session”! Oh how He must laugh at His children, when He is not in despair at our antics!

He led me to Jeremiah 10 v 6: Inasmuch as there is none like You, o Lord (You are great, and Your name is great in might). Like it or not, He is God, He can do as He pleases. A friend in Mozambique once said this to me when I questioned God’s role in events. At the time those words left me with a faint sense of indignation, although I could not argue with them. Now He was telling me the same thing Himself!

Thereafter I heard this insistent voice saying: “When are you going to leave things in My hands?”

This led to a fresh outburst, which was good in that for once I was able to answer honestly, instead of apportioning blame: Because I am scared, I am scared you won’t answer, I’m scared of the future, and I don’t want to be alone anymore.

The answer really is very simple: God is Lord. He does as He pleases and that is His prerogative. My part is to do as I am told, as long, of course, as I clearly hear the instruction. I am usually so busy off to sort everything out, I don’t hear His voice trailing into the distance behind me!

The next day, after a good night’s sleep I was better positioned to listen. The Lord led me to Deuteronomy 31 v 6: Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”

Old, well-known, comfortable and comforting words, but this day they leapt off the page at me with new meaning. God truly does go with me, I am the one who gives into fear. He knows that, so He says: “Don’t fear them, for they are impotent in My presence, they may not touch you! I go with you.”

The cross reference to this discussion is found in Psalm 27, another old favourite. “Though an army may encamp against me my heart shall not fear…” and again that injunction: …”wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart;…”

It couldn’t be clearer. Or could it. My cell beeped with the tune indicating a message from my home group. it was Fi, with our daily lesson which this day came from Proverbs 4 v12: When you walk your steps will not be impeded, and if you run you will not stumble.” Not on ly did she send these words, but she then sent a prayer for us which began:

“If you don’t learn to thank God in advance, you won’t have the strength you need to wait for the promised.”

Day led into day. We had a dreadful storm, a tornado which ripped through our community, uprooting trees, destroying buildings, leaving us without electricity or water for almost a day. Funny how the Lord tests one’s resolve – I don’t like storms, and strong winds terrify me, but through this storm I was able to keep calm, even filming the gusting rain to send to my boys. Having to deal with the after effects, however, in addition to what seemed like pressure to perform in various aspects of my life on all sides, and pretty soon I felt as if I were in free-fall again.

A new set of questions: You say I must leave things in Your hands. You also say that I am Your hands, that I must be ready to act, to move, to have courage. How do I know when to move and when to wait? The anxiety began to mount once more. A sleepless night, a gnawing in the pit of stomach, a cry for help.

Somewhere along the line I ended up at Deuteronomy 8 v 1-10, again dealing with the need for courage, but telling of God’s presence through every difficulty, of His provision, of how we will suffer lack at times, but never for long. Another day I was impressed to turn to Psalm 37 where almost every question and concern I was struggling with is answered with amazing assurance, but also throughout the verses is the injunction to wait, be patient, wait on the Lord, be controlled, forsake anger, chose instead to trust Him who is able to do abundantly more than we can ever imagine.

I began to understand properly for the first time how worry can lead to wrong doing, but in trusting a door is opened for peace.

Ps 37 v 11: “But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace”! When we allow ourselves to fully trust God, it induces humility – we are stating that we are powerless, He alone is able and worthy. If we can get to this place, this state of simple being, the reward is an abundance of peace, in which we are able to delight. Strong words, powerful promise!

Another lesson learnt, a step closer to my Lord, a walk in the fertile sunshine of my Father’s provision.

And so, as I face the questions that confront me, the choices placed before me, I know that I have to walk in my own integrity, regardless of the actions of those around me. I cannot treat others as they may treat me, I have to treat them as God directs, and above all, I need to guard my heart, so that no hint of resentment paves the way for a root of bitterness to grow from what sometimes seems grossly unfair.

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Not Over Yet!

It really is ridiculous. I came back from a wonderful refreshing ten days in Mozambique, and then what happened? How did five weeks fly by, and I have not put pen to paper? When I have serious deadlines to meet?

As most of us do when we find ourselves in similar pickles, I have plenty of justification for the gap, but at the end of the day it comes down to me. Why did I allow people, events, other peoples’ tardiness to overturn my life and cause me to compromise my routine and deadlines? Many questions, one simple answer: old habits die hard.

For as much of my life as I can remember, I have felt responsible. This is largely the legacy of being an only child, left fatherless at a young age, believing I needed to take care of my distraught mother, widowed at the young age of 34. Rather than decreasing as I got older, this sense of being the buck, the one charged with taking care of everything, increased. And as is the manner of the such things, every stage of my life seemed to bring situations that ensured this sense became more and more entrenched.

Of course, how this comes across to others is not great. Overbearing is probably a kind way of putting it, while feeling stressed and unable to cope, lashing out at whoever comes too close.

I am trained in what used to be called Theophostic Prayer Ministry, now Transformation Prayer Ministry, which is a powerful method of bringing healing. One of the steps one takes as a facilitator in the process, is after counsellees have a revelation that exchanges the lies they have believed for the light of truth, is to go back and ‘test’ the emotion, test that the person really does have freedom in that area.

I believe God does that. He takes us through a process where He shows us the error of our ways. But He always comes back to check if we have learnt the lesson, if we’ve really got it. Sometimes He has to check a few times before He can let us go, give us the certificate, be sure we are not going to fall into that trap again.

Tied into this is the scripture so many love to quote from Luke 4:13: “and he left Him, for a while”. The New King James Version says “until an opportune time”, which is also translated as a testing time.

I think that is where I have been the past few weeks.

Thankfully, I have learnt enough to know that when I am in trouble, feeling overwhelmed and inadequate, I need to seek Him, seek my God’s wisdom and guidance and I praise Him for He is faithful who carries us!

This morning I woke up with a wonderful feeling of release, that freedom from oppression, understanding once more that I can only be responsible for that which falls under my brief. Equally those around me are responsible for what is theirs. If we are tied into a venture together, we will stand or fall – either way only my share of the load will be accounted to me.

What a relief!

Back to the journey, to the walk Beside Still Waters. Yes, I said I had come to a place of healing, and it seemed I had come to the end of this series of blogs. I have not. There are three more issues that need to be addressed, and I will work on these over the next three weeks.

Meanwhile it is impressed on me once more that our journey on this planet is never over. As much as God’s mercies are new every morning, so are the lessons to be learned, the experiences to be had, the friendships to be developed, until that day when the promise of the heavenly Jerusalem comes to pass.

 

 

The Healed Place

Just when you possibly all thought I had disappeared for good, here I am, back again, after a wonderful break in my old haunt in Mozambique.

The last time I visited the beach two years ago was too soon after the death of my husband for it to have had any therapeutic value, which sounds obverse for some reason. It should have been exactly the right place to go for that healing process. But somehow it was all too raw.

I searched for the Lord, for a way out of the pain, the fear, the bitterness at how my sons, and yes, me, were treated, how we were cut off and discarded as though we had never existed. There was an intensity to my desperation that no amount of sea, sky and beauty could salve. Thank God for loving friends who were patient and forgiving.

I came away from there feeling discouraged and adrift.

When John died, friends who had been widowed told me not to make any decisions for at least a year. I did listen, although not really believing there was anything wrong with me or my decision making processes. Looking back, I see that I was in a pretty bleak, dark hole, and while I might have thought I was functioning quite well and normally, my writing from those months assures me I was not!

Fairly soon after I returned from that unhappy week in Mozambique, I cried out to the Lord. “Is this it? What is to become of me?”

As usual the Lord’s answer was prompt: “Bloom where you are planted.”

Obviously I had more to learn. And those lessons needed to be learned amongst my people, my friends and my family. As if to make sure I didn’t stray from my allotted path, I suddenly became fearful of driving to Mozambique. Much as I yearned for the beach, the thought of making a journey I had taken so many times, almost always alone, overwhelmed me with fear.

Then a couple of months ago, my neighbours mentioned they were going to Praia do Chizavane. Ah! This was my chance. I could go with them and not have to drive. They happily agreed to give me a lift.

And then their dates changed. The new dates were no good for me. Or for my hosts in Mozambique. I knew this was from the Lord, that it was time and I needed to drive myself to Chizavane, to the beach. I was a little anxious, not only of the drive but of confronting my issues, such as remained. Of relationships strained and needing to be restored.

There is something about this particular piece of paradise on the Mozambique coast that creates an atmosphere of healing. It is interesting how many souls turn up, either at the resort of Nascer do Sol, or at the houses of Moya Moya next door, who are in need of a touch, a supportive shoulder, an ear that listens.

Within the hour of my arriving, my friend Erma said, “I hope you don’t think you are here to rest, there are people needing help here this week and we need to be ready! It is not by chance that you are here at this time.”

Oh what joy, what confirmation from the Lord that I was exactly where He wanted me to be.

I laughed, for when was it ever any different? How can anyone who has been blessed and nurtured so abundantly of the Lord not be used of Him to minister to other souls in distress? And that, my friends, is the reward at the end of the journey to healing. Yes, many of those steps might have been painful, there were times when I wondered if I would survive the pain, but I did. Not only did I survive, but I came through it stronger, more loving and understanding I hope, and with an excitement about helping others in their quest to find that place of peace and serenity beside still waters.

I realised that at last I have peace, a calm sense of joy that is so reassuring. It was fabulous visiting my old haunts, saying hello to kingfishers and minute reef dwellers, allowing myself to be embraced once more by the hugeness of that landscape. The importance of catching up with old friends, and renewing those friendships that are impossible to maintain by WhatsApp, or email, or even the odd phone call once more became so apparent to me, as we talked and laughed, or were just companionably silent together.

On my last day I walked west instead of east as I usually do along the beach. The familiar peace and wonder filled me. I looked at a section of the reef, and pools, that I had not seen for years, and it was refreshing. I needed to swim, to be submerged into that water, warm for May, to be released in a final cleansing baptism of healing.

Still Water, Cleansing Waters
Still Waters, Cleansing Waters

I drove home in convoy with the van Vurens to Maputo, and then we parted. As I contended with the traffic of Matola, and finally got onto the open road to Goba border post, I realised that my confidence had returned, the fear was gone.

I have gone through the valley of death, with my Lord alongside every moment, when the time was right, and the road was now straight, He had led me to still waters, beside which I found healing.

 

 

 

 

 

A Last Word on Idols

A large part of repentance is making right the wrong you have done. I think that at times this making good is so horrific that it serves to entrench the lesson! Our God knows us so well.

I soon realised that, as part of this process of dissembling my idols, I would have to apologise to my husband and ask his forgiveness. We place heavy burdens on those we put into positions of prominence because we expect them to live up to our desires, to be the answers we seek. My husband was someone who was emotionally dissociated. He simply did not see things the way I saw them and so he felt no need to behave in any other manner to the way he did. The rights or wrongs of that were not for me to judge – I had to hand that over to the Lord.

The long drive back to Swaziland each month from the beach in Mozambique provided great opportunities for some of my most productive conversations with my heavenly Father. On one such journey, He helped me see that I had made demands on John that he was unable to meet. I wanted a warm, loving relationship where each partner was concerned about the other. In Paul’s discourse on marriage and the roles of husbands and wives, verse 28: “So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.” I believe marriage is a partnership, with total disclosure, unity and consideration. John did not and refused to even entertain the idea of a partnership.

I finally understood that this was something that I could not accept. As a Christian everything in our marriage flouted the conventions of my belief. Not only that, but I needed to feel loved and cared for, that is who I am. I love hugging and being hugged, I love being included in the lives of those close to me, nurturing and being nurtured. Fair enough, you say, so what did you have to apologise for?

This is where it gets a little complicated, so bear with me. I had to apologise because I had made demands on him that he was unable to meet, and then I held him accountable for that inability, insisting he should be the person I needed him to be. In so doing, I had placed as much strain on him as he on me. I had to release him, to acknowledge that he was who he was, and ask his forgiveness for demanding that he change. I also understood finally, that whilst I loved him, I could not live in a relationship that didn’t offer me what I needed, and that was ok. The massive relief of finally acknowledging that, and being able to walk free of the consuming guilt and condemnation I had felt for so long, for simply wanting to be loved and accepted is indescribable.

People I have shared this have come back at me, as I am sure many of you will too, with the question: “So what about him? His apology?”

It would be nice, I have to admit, if that had been forthcoming. But that was not the deal the Father had struck with me. I needed to be obedient. What John did or didn’t do with that was inconsequential. Was that easy? No way! It was tough, and I fought many emotions, cried many hot tears as I wrangled with this. But deep down I knew I really had no choice. If I was serious about getting my life into sync with God, I had to respect His need for obedience, and if that comes with sacrifice, so be it. Whatever we give up for Him, He will reward in ways we cannot envisage.

What I haven’t yet told you is at some point during this time that I was wrestling with the concept of idols, our house that I was living in at the beach burnt down. Completely. Razed to the ground in a cruel act of burning rage, taking with it almost everything I treasured. I tried valiantly to put it out, but it was a wooden house with a thatch roof and there was a stiff breeze blowing off the sea that evening. Instead of rescuing my possessions, I tried to put out the fire. By the time I realised I was fighting a losing battle, the heat was too great for me to get inside. I had no choice but to walk away.

In those moments of numb despair, as I looked at my life going up in flames before my eyes, I heard the voice of the Lord quietly whispering, “Now you will learn what it means to trust Me.”

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Refiner’s Fire or the enemy at work?

 

 

I found myself wondering what else I was unwilling to relinquish – was there something in the house, another idol, that would have caused me to fall, that God allowed everything to be consumed? Was what I had written so far that awful? I had said to a dear friend the previous week that it was so dry and boring I couldn’t bear it – maybe God couldn’t either! Or maybe He was simply obliterating the past, making a way for the future.

Foolishly, I thought that fire was the culmination of my discipline, my learning curve in the Lord. How little we truly know of desire our Father’s heart, to bring us as close to Him as is humanly possible. In retrospect, that night was the beginning of a stripping away that at times made me feel as if I was being flayed as my Saviour was that awful day two thousand odd years ago, great strips of flesh being peeled away.

I have frequently said to friends that it has been a journey that I would not wish on my worst enemy, but I would not have missed one step of it, because of where it has brought me in relation to my Lord.

Hebrews 12 vv7, 8:

But if you are without chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?

But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then are illegitimate and not sons.

We want all the benefits and blessings of God, especially in this day and age of the quick fix, the prosperity gospel, the bless me clubs that many of our churches have become. But we claim these as illegitimate children if we are not prepared to bow our will to the Father’s.

Job 5 vv 17-21

Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty

For He bruises, but He binds up; He wounds, but His hands make whole.

He shall deliver you in six troubles, yes, in seven no evil shall touch you.

In famine He shall redeem you from death, and in war from the power of the sword.

You shall be hidden from the scourge of the tongue, and you shall not be afraid of destruction when it comes.

Why did God allow it? I never asked. After all, He is God, and as my friend Zoe always says, “He can do what He likes”.

Be blessed this week, in Him.

Steps Remain
Out of the ashes will rise the Phoenix! Praise the Lord!

Those Insidious False Gods!

After that golden morning on the beach, when the Lord decided I had had enough cossetting and now needed to take the next step of my journey to healing and maturity, everything seemed to slow down as I wrestled with the truth of what I felt He was saying to me.

Every passage I read, every verse, mentioned the word ‘idol’, so I was in no doubt that what I had heard Him say was right. But it was going to take time and effort to unpack exactly what the Lord meant. I also had to figure out how it had happened, if I was to truly exorcise this sin from my life.

Whenever I am seeking clarity I revert to the dictionary. The definitions of idol, idolatry, idolize were pretty much as I expected:

image of deity used as object of worship; false god; person or thing that is the object of excessive devotion; false mental conception

except for the last two.

I had to ask myself some searching questions: did I lavish excessive devotion on my husband? My sons? My situation? My status as a victim?

This brought me to the meaning of ‘devotion’. If it meant the amount of time and energy spent thinking about them, doing what all I felt I needed in order to get them and me to where I wanted us to be, then yes, excessive was the right word, and so was devotion, because I was involved with them pretty much all my waking hours. There were few minutes in each day when I did not think about my husband, our relationship, the effects on my sons, my desperation over all of it.

Every thought, every action, reaction, was filtered through my pain, and through my ignorance of my standing in Christ. I felt that sinking feeling as I began to see my life through the Father’s eyes, measured it against the standard of Christ’s perfection and realised that I came up desperately short.

So how did I set about unfurling this idolatrous heart of mine?

I had no choice but to trust the Lord to take me through this. Two verses wormed their way into my life, as they tend to when the Holy Spirit is at work:

Psalms 139v23 – Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties.

And

Philippians 4 vv6,7: be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.

Do you know what a relief it was to be be able to confess how scared I was? That indeed I was filled with anxiety, and its cousins, anger and resentment. I realised I was scared to let go of these emotions because if I did, maybe I would never be avenged, there would be no retribution, and I would have lost the battle I had been fighting for almost half my life.

While much of my anger was justified, and the hurt was real, it is what I did with them that mattered. Time and again I had read the scriptures on anger, not to sin as a result of it, not to let the sun go down on it, and I had really tried to be obedient to those scriptures. But we often bury instead of release, and think we have dealt with the sin. And so we come to resentment, that bitter root that we are warned about in Hebrews 12v15

Looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.

I felt myself wince as I read this with new understanding. How many had been defiled by the bitterness in my soul?

How had this come about? I found the answer in Deuteronomy 29v18. The Lord is warning the Israelites about the foreign gods in the promised land:

So that there may not be among you man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations, and that there may not be among you a root bearing bitterness or wormwood

It couldn’t be clearer. If we serve foreign gods, we run the risk of becoming bitter and miserable.

I want to say here, that throughout this time, the Lord dealt so gently with me. He was teaching me a tough lesson in a loving way – you know when the Lord is in control when there is no feeling of condemnation, simply a desire to be rid of anything that separates us from our Father.

Anxieties. I had many of them and one of the biggest was money, particularly the shortage of it. Because it was used to control me, money took on greater significance than it should have. If I was going to be secure financially, I would have to make sure I earned enough. And if I did, and he found out that I had a source of income, he would make sure he fleeced me of it. So I lived a double life, actually, I lived a number of double lives, having to be dishonest, and always afraid of being caught.

When I had to make up shortfalls, or pay my share of holidays, whatever ploy was invoked, it would entrench the lies into my psyche:

You cannot make it on your own, you don’t understand how money works, you will never make enough.

Our situations may be different, but the message is the same. YOU CANNOT cope without me! Over time we begin to believe the lie.

I still have anger, deep seated and unrecognised. I still have to take a stand against my anxieties, my fears for the future. These manifest when I least expect them to, but when they do I thank my Father because I know how to deal with them, to hand over to Him, recognise that He is the best custodian of all my fears, anxieties, shortcomings, but most of all He has my future in His hands, and I can trust Him with it.

The Truth Shall Set You Free

Through all the years of turmoil in my life I was quite confident that I trusted the Lord. I was a committed Christian who had read the bible through from cover to cover a couple of times, quite apart from daily readings, bible studies and the like. I knew scripture. Beware of what you think you know!

The problem in my life had to be me – it patently could not be God. Because I was defective, He was unable to help me. I wasn’t good enough, I had to work harder at being better, different. I had a friend who always used to say: ”If you want things to change, you must change you first.” Yes. And no!

Of course I had melt downs along the way, when too many things going wrong got on top of me. At these times I always railed at God, pointing out how I trusted Him in vain; everyone else’s prayers were answered, never mine. I would lose hope, call it “stupid hope” because it was in vain. He would never come through for me.

I always picked myself up again, and soldiered on, because without faith, without God, and yes, that blessed wavering hope, there really is only bleak despair.

By now I had started working through my journals, because one of the books I was going to write would deal with the issue of non-violent abuse. I seriously believed I would be able to write this book with humour, that it would not be a litany of wrongs perpetrated against me, couched in diplomatic terms. I journal pretty much every day, and had books going back a number of years. I was stunned at the repetitiveness of my observations, my ongoing pain, the lack of any resolution or progress. I hate to admit there was a fair bit of whingeing too.

Yes, there were victories along the way, but they were minute in the scale of the problems and issues I faced. I realised that I had lived on a pendulum of despair and hope for most of my life. So where to now?

The sun cuts through the crisp dawn, the beach glistens like antique gold
The sun cuts through the crisp dawn, the beach glistens like antique gold

 

One glorious morning, when the sun was directing golden rays through the crisp winter dawn, and the beach was glistening with magical mystery, I heard the Holy Spirit whisper softly, “Trust me.”

Trust. That stopped me in my tracks. I knew innately my answer to this request was critical. Trust. The toughest thing in all the world. Trusting, when trust has been violated over and over again. How on earth do you trust? No, not today, Lord. Another day, let me just enjoy this time a little longer.

But I was in too deep. I had invited the Lord to search my heart, given Him permission and He was taking me at my word. This was it, the time had come when I needed to commit my all to Him, no matter how hard or how painful.

I started by tentatively asking the Lord to make my ears sensitive to His voice. I wanted to be absolutely sure the voice I heard was His, and not the other fellow. I began praying this scripture from Isaiah 30v21:

Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying: “This is the way, walk in it”

Whenever you turn to the right handOr whenever you turn to the left.

There were three main issues that came out of these conversations, and each one rocked me back on my heels. The first was the issue of my idols.

Of course I was aware of idols: make sure you don’t get hung up on money or possessions, beware of philosophies that don’t line up with the teachings of the bible, horoscopes and the like, becareful of artefacts and art in your home and had been careful to observe all these. But what the Lord revealed to me here seemed to come from way out of left field: Are you willing to give up your husband and your sons?

Pardon?

You have made an idol of your husband – are you willing to give him up?

No, now hang on Lord, he’s part of the problem, he’s not an idol.

Are you sure? Then why are your thoughts almost exclusively centred on him? Why does concern over him, his welfare consume you?

And then the big one: why do you believe you are responsible for him? His salvation?

But, Lord, I am, aren’t I, quiet and gentle spirit, win him without a word, no divorce, believing spouse sticking around, it’s all here, in Your word?

What about the part that says I alone draw the hearts? If you are responsible for his spiritual state, why did I die for him? Or you? Or anyone?

I began to feel distinctly uncomfortable as these questions began to simmer through my thoughts. Do you see the deception of the enemy? I had become so hooked up on sorting out my marriage, the emphasis being on me sorting out my marriage, that I had almost made the Lord a spectator. I was not only fighting the injustices in my life, I was fighting God, who was desperately trying to fight for me, if I would only let Him IN!

I also realised that I was looking to John to meet my needs, he was my everything, his salvation would be my final sufficiency. The Holy Spirit began leading to me to a number of verses:

 

Psalms 146v3: Do not put your trust in princes nor in a son of man in whom there is no help

Psalms 118vv8,9: It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man

                                 It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes

Prov 28v26: He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered

 

I was making John, and to a lesser extent my sons, responsible for my happiness, my peace of mind, my conscience. Aha, now that was an interesting one – the old blame game of the enemy. It was my fault none of them were walking with the Lord, so if they just suddenly miraculously became wonderful men of God, somehow I would be justified and set free, from what all I am not quite sure. What a burden I placed on them, very similar to the burden that ancient tribe placed on their golden calves, and equally fruitless.

What a mess we get ourselves into when we walk according to the dictates of our hearts, look to our own understanding, and do not seek the wisdom of God. My problems had become so big that God was obscured somewhere in the midst of them, and to an extent He had become the enemy!

I had to repent. It took time to unravel all this piece by piece, surrender it, ask for forgiveness and cleansing, and to be filled with more of His Holy Spirit so that His truth became my reality, not the lies of the enemy.

The Real Meaning?

Words are living, with a creative power that can work for good or bad. God spoke the world into being. The Word of God is living, according to Paul in Hebrews 4;12, as I am sure many of us can attest as we mull over things that have been said, frequently enhancing them until we have interpreted them to suit our emotions and needs. So many fights and wars have started because clear unequivocal communication is hard.

I lived in a world where the words that were spoken at me, to me and over me, were uttered with an intention contrary to their literal meaning. I had to learn to discern their true intimation, and react accordingly. For my husband, it was a game, and like all games there were rules. if I broke the rules, there would be retribution designed to make sure I thought twice before doing so again.

I realised one day that making me lose my temper was a big win, so I would be needled and provoked until I reacted. I have a temper. I don’t like losing it because it is an exhausting explosion of negative energy that does no good to anyone, least of all me. Someone described losing one’s rag being like dropping a can of paint – a lot of people get splashed.

So I would try really hard to contain my anger, but he was a well-seasoned veteran in the art of goading, and I was no match. The point would come when I would crack and start yelling. I would end up feeling awful, frequently in tears, he would be smiling smugly at having won, my children and staff walking around me on tiptoe.

Until I found what has become an important foundational scripture.

Proverbs 4:23: ‘Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.’ NKJV

The amplified Bible says: ‘keep and guard your heart with all vigilance, and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life.’

NIV: ‘Above all guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.’

In other words choose wisely what you allow to penetrate your heart, make sure it is truth and that it edifies. It is our choice to accept or reject the things that are said to us. Reject lies and falsehoods, particularly those that demean you and attack the very essence of who you are. If our hearts are tainted with skewed truth, our lives reflect this. Easier said than done, but going back to these words over and over again really helped me to sift out much of what was said. It just wasn’t enough.

I am a bit slow on the uptake but when it dawned on me that this was a deliberate ploy, a move in a contorted game, I decided, come what may I would not to take the bait. I closed myself off and allowed the jibes to pass over my head, countering with remarks like “can I get you a drink?” “how was your day?” and so on. It felt good because for once I was in control. But it annoyed my partner to the extent that he did not speak to me for three weeks! I’d spoilt the game.

That was small potatoes. The biggest lie levelled at me consistently over the years was that I was insane. If ever I tried to react to some irrational accusation, that I was always responsible for, the tirade would begin: “You’re mad! Paranoid, you are totally irrational. Off your head! You should be on medication. You need help.” In later years I became bi-polar, probably needing to be on Lithium.

What was actually meant by all this was: you don’t matter, you scarcely exist; I don’t have to answer to you. I certainly don’t have to honour any promise I may make to you.

Stop and think about this for a moment. How do we regard the insane? If they are not institutionalised, we disregard them, write off what they are saying as insignificant because it is part of their malaise, the mentally unstable are non-people in a way.

When I wasn’t mad, I was a depressive. I got to a place where I eventually allowed myself to be put on medication. I was so demoralised and filled with fear, that I was having panic attacks. I think I lasted a year on the fad drug of that time, Cipromil. It was awful – I was wandering around in a state of recumbent docility.

“You are a depressive that is why you are so difficult to live with. It makes my life easier when you are on medication!” Yeah, right, because I was zonked out, any drive and energy sublimated under the effects of emotion deadening narcotics

There is a film called ‘The Stepford Wives’, where men working together in some large company drugged their wives into submission. They were like robots, smiling and obedient and pretty much brain dead. I was adamant I would never be a Stepford wife!

Through all this did I behave irrationally. Darn sure I did, any sane person would. How do you cope when any normal relational issue that needs to be discussed and resolved is met with blunt refusal because you are crazy? How do you manage in a world where you don’t really exist? This sobriquet is amongst the cruellest there is – how do you cast off that cloak? Those taunting voices, that quiet confidential voice that would say confidingly, “Well you know she is a depressive and she won’t take anything for it.” My husband’s remedy for everything was a mood elevator and a sleeping pill.

I often felt that I was living in a vacuum, shaped like a bubble, transparent but opaquely thick. I would be talking and people would see me, but not react in any way. My lips would be moving, I could hear my voice, but others would not hear what I was saying. He had effectively silenced me, people genuinely did not hear much of what I said, so suggestions I gave went unheeded, while the same suggestion from someone else would be accepted, pleas for help ignored. I retreated further and further into a lonely cell located somewhere close to hell, desperate and isolated. When I ventured out I was prickly with defence, loud and repetitive as one is when no one listens to you, aggressive and defensive.

I had a lot to unpack those first months at the beach. I had to figure out what was truth, what was lie, what was reality, what was hope. But my journey had begun, and that was good and it was positive.

One of the first verses that was given to me in those early days of freedom is found in Psalm 18v19:

“He also brought me out into a broad place;

He delivered me because He delighted in me.”

I couldn’t stop reading this verse. God Himself delighted in me! this person who no-one wanted to be near, according to all I had been told, this reject, this crazy woman! But God had brought me out, and He delighted in me. God is so good and gentle. He gives us the encouragement that we need, the strength of His succour so that we are armed to face the fight, to take those steps into His light. Because He knew that as much as I needed His healing, He needed my repentance in order to bring it about.

 

 

 

Till death … or divorce

Last week I spoke about divorce, and how clear the word is with regard to re-marriage. I don’t for one minute think that God withdrew His hand from me because I married a second time, but I certainly believe that I suffered the consequences of going my own way, preferring to trust in my desire, pandering to my insecurity instead of waiting for God’s plan to unfold in my life.

Our Father is a God of mercy, and He says that even if we take the wrong path, He will not lift His hand from us. But He gives the law in order to protect us – every action has a consequence. I have a number of precious friends, who are serving the Lord mightily, blessed of Him in second marriages, and I would never presume to judge any of them, or question the will of God in their lives.

Each person has to seek for and hear from God for His will for themselves. After all, was it not the Lord who sent Hosea to marry a prostitute, divorce her, marry her again? How many times did He forgive David his transgressions? The scriptures are full of what seem to be inconsistencies, because we fail to truly understand the heart of the Father – He does not want to see His children beaten and abused, oppressed and condemned, and He would never tell us to remain in bondage if there were not a good reason for us to do so. In the same way, I do believe that God does give second chances, He is well able to forgive mistakes knowing that we will treasure that opportunity as His gift. This was certainly Bishop Bernard’s take when he gave his permission for us to marry.

In later years, however, every time I read those scriptures I wondered if my disobedience to the injunction not to marry again, was one of the reasons I was where I was. I got married because that is what I wanted, and I was going to go ahead regardless. That was my disobedience. At the time it was so easy to put aside any reservation. After all the one who refused to marry us did not believe in demons or the miracles of healing, dismissing these words of scripture as being pertinent for “those days” alone. I remember asking how he could believe some parts of scripture adamantly, and yet so easily dismiss those sections that didn’t suit him, and receiving no relevant response.

For one well able to argue the hind leg off a donkey, it became easy for me to dismiss the grounds for his refusal to marry us as unfounded. After all, was he concerned about me being linked with an unbeliever? Did he really trust JW’s conversion? That wasn’t an issue for him. After all the man I was going to marry was a well-respected member of society, had attended the right school, a Christian school, he now came to church, of course he was a Christian. We are so fickle, and we make so light with Gods word, with His commandments. Lord, forgive us!

There are three main scriptures that get quoted whenever the topic of struggles within marriage are brought up. They are preached from pulpits across the globe, and I bought wholeheartedly into these teachings, dogma actually, applying them unequivocally to myself and others. I praise God that He undertook to enlighten me, through wise counsel and through His word.

The one I have come to hate hearing with a passion, because it is spoken so frequently, always out of context: “The Lord hates divorce”. I would like to “unpack”, as modern terminology would have it, the full context of this statement as found in Malachi 2, beginning at verse 13, ending at verse 16.

  1. And this is the second thing you do: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and crying. So He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with good will from your hands.
  2. Yet you say, “For what reason?” Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant.
  3. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.
  4. ”For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence,” says the Lord of hosts. Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.

Where here do you read that God forbids divorce? Hates divorce, absolutely He does, but more than that He hates the behaviour that leads to divorce. He calls it treachery. The Oxford definition of treachery is: violating faith or allegiance, betraying trust, perfidious, not to be relied on, deceptive, likely to fail or give way when used. OUCH!

He then goes further to say that they have chosen pagan wives, and cast away His daughters, profaning God’s Holy institution, marriage. That is why He hates divorce.

In Jeremiah 3v8 God Himself issues a certificate of divorce against His people, because He can no longer tolerate their aberrant behaviour. So God understands better than we tend to give Him credit for, that there is a time and a circumstance under which divorce is permissible and we need to be sensitive to this. Many precious sisters, and brothers, have been kept in cruel bondage by this piece of scripture, spoken without Godly understanding.

Another scripture frequently spoken when marriage problems are brought to Christian leadership is found in 1 Corinthians 7vv10-11. Again and again I hear it preached that a spouse may not leave the marriage, yet even Paul, in the name of Lord, agrees that at times it is impossible to remain in a marriage, and the wife is allowed to leave, provided she understands that she may not marry another. These are tough laws, but if we are to live in victory, we need to take heed of them.

Please don’t think that I am promoting divorce. I am not. I know the excruciating, searing agony of separating what God has joined together, and would not want that pain for an enemy let alone a friend. But I am saying to those who are living in abusive oppression, go seek your Father’s will, look at what is happening to your children, find a Godly counsellor filled with wisdom, and you may well find that He is telling you to go, leave Egypt, seek sanctuary.

Each one of us is responsible for working out our own salvation, and that with fear and trembling, (Phil 2;12). The Father’s heart is one of love and compassion. Ideally He wants you in a union that lasts until death, He wants what is best for us, His plan is perfect – go seek it.

Wedding Vows
The two white egrets arrived during the ceremony – symbolism that speaks to everlasting in God’s eyes

 

 

For Better or For Worse

 

So here I was at the beach, trying to make some sense of my life, why I had followed the path that I had, what had brought me to this point.

As a Christian I have to go back to the Word, and to my faith. It was 1979 when I gave my life to the Lord Jesus Christ, some six months later that I was baptised in the Holy Spirit, I have spoken in tongues ever since, it was the dawn of the charismatic movement and I believed in miracles of healing and provision. So why was I here? Where was this life of freedom and victory that the bible speaks about, and which was preached from almost every born again pulpit at that time.

Footprints - mine! (800x600)
There is a poem about footprints in the sand – these are mine, threading a route through the rocks, rather as I walked through life

My first marriage ended soon after the birth of my second son. Blood tests revealed I had syphilis, every cent my mother had left me had disappeared and in its place was debt. No matter how bad a marriage may be, divorce is a painful and undermining experience. My sense of failure and isolation were exacerbated as I became another seven year statistic. To this add a mild degree of panic as I looked ahead and wondered how on earth I was going to raise and educate my two sons on the salary of a journalist, and the next step of my journey was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

I didn’t get divorced lightly. My commitment to Christianity was total and sincere. We were not get married in church, but Robert Forrester had pronounced a blessing in the name of Christ, and that counted with me. My mentor and counsellor through those months was the then Bishop of Swaziland, Bernard Mkhabela, an amazing man of God. He agreed to my filing for divorce after much prayer and searching. The day I had to go to court, he invited me to attend Mass with him. As I was leaving his house, he grabbed his car keys and began putting on his jacket.

Babe, what are you doing?”

“I’m coming with you. You cannot go to court alone.”

“But you’re the Bishop of Swaziland, you can’t be seen in a divorce court!”

“I am also your father in Christ, and as you have no other family, I will come with you.”

I managed to dissuade him, but I have never forgotten his humility, his love for God and for his flock.

Fast forward a few years, and I was again in his office, this time asking for permission to get married again. He was not convinced it was a good idea. The man I was wanting to marry was also divorced, and surprise, surprise, a lot older than me. The priest he assigned to counsel us was adamant he would not marry us, as the words of Christ rang true for him:

Mathew 5 vv31,32: “ …whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.”

And again: Mark 10:11,12: “whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her.”

And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

He was right, I was wrong, and so was the Bishop and other Christians who said it was alright, God gives second chances. Forgive us, Father, for we mess with your words, and we interpret your law to suit ourselves, and wonder why we end up in a mess. How many times did that come back to haunt me. God wrote those words, I decided to reject them, because why? I was exempt? What deception, what longing, caused me to trust man rather than to fear God?

As humans, we tend not understand grace: it is not softness towards sin and disobedience, it is forgiveness and acceptance of us in our fallen nature over which we have no control. The only way out of this malaise is through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, his redeeming blood.

It was very easy to fall for the promises of a charming doctor, who outwardly seemed to guarantee security, someone I had known most of my life and with whom I was honestly in love. Our courtship was tempestuous, largely due to the restrictions of my faith. Then came the day that he told me of this amazing revelation he had of the Lord, how he had accepted Jesus as Saviour, and thus the counselling began. There were those who were not convinced, but it was easy to ignore their words of reservation, as it was the few signs that caused unease in my own spirit.

The Lord speaks in a still, small voice, and one of my most heartfelt prayers these past years has been for ears overly sensitive to that voice, that I might not stray too far from His side ever again.

When Bishop Bernard give his consent it was with a stern warning. “You need to be very sure this time, Glenda. I believe that God does allow second chances, you are young and it is good for you to be married. But, you have to make this marriage work, there is no way out of this for either of you.”

I realised some two weeks into my second marriage that I had made a huge miscalculation, as promises made prior to the event were offhandedly refuted. Financial support was withdrawn as my husband now asserted that he would not support another man’s children. At the same time he put me under pressure to stop working in order to care for him. A twisted Catch 22. My sons, who had been feted and spoilt were now ignored at best, or punished by banishment for minor offences at worst. They went from happy, carefree little souls to anxious, introverted little boys, manifested as a stutter in one and alopecia in the other.

Why did I stay? Simple really. Blind obedience. I say blind deliberately, because I took at face value the Christian dogma that is espoused, and I had been warned by a man I respected highly that I had to find a way to make it work. This was my second and last chance. Secondly, hope, a belief that my God was greater than my circumstances, and He could do more than I believed possible, and somehow He would make everything right.

As I began to unpack all that had led to this point in my life I understood why the Lord had told me to ditch all Christian literature, that He would teach me Himself from His word. There is so much that I had misunderstood, not least of all the depth of God’s love, His heart for us as His special creation, and especially for women as the pinnacle of that creation, the helpmeet for Adam. Eve, who was so beautiful that Adam gasped in amazement at her, and then her abilities, to the extent that he gave her the title, Mother of all the living! No wonder she was targeted by the serpent, and she still is today, together with her offspring, her young sons and daughters.

So often we interpret scripture to suit ourselves, or to make things easier for others, as did Bernard for John and I, to both our detriments ultimately. God has made His rules, not to punish us, but to guide us into that abundant life that Christ promises in John 10v10 :

… I have come that they might have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

It was this life that I had sought ever since I made that commitment all those decades ago, amongst that pile of books on the verandah of the house in Piggs Peak. The majority of us do not experience these because our idea of what God means is slightly off-centre, we get hung up on a phrase, take things out of context, and thereby condemn ourselves and others.

The Lord had much to teach me.

 

Sex Rears its Ugly Head

I was fortunate enough to be invited to be part of a counselling team going to Mozambique this past weekend, to minister to some inner city youngsters.

My first session began, and whilst the person was polite, I sensed resistance, and the reason soon came out.

“I didn’t ask to be here. They booked me.”

“Then why are you here?”

“Because I can’t ever say ‘no’.”

I felt such empathy hearing those words, that I laughed. Throughout my life I have struggled with this very issue: how to say ‘no’.

Why is that small word so enormous? I don’t have an answer. I still battle with it, although I have got better over the years. It is almost as if, when some part of the essential you is violated, when you have been forced to submit to another’s pernicious will, you lose the ability to resist for ever after. Some false sense of guilt makes you feel duty bound to do whatever someone else wants you to do.

Which brings me to the topic I have been dreading discussing: sex.

Needless to say, the thought of having sex absolutely terrified me. My mother had firmly instilled the ‘no sex before marriage’ axiom with threats ranging from hell to complete rejection by all society, but my teenage years coincided with the sixties, the dawn of a new ‘morality’. I was quite shocked at the laxity I saw all around me, so ended up being almost a chaperone, standing guard for my friends as they disappeared into dark corners with boys who seemed happy to treat me as a little sister. I was the archetypical wallflower, and it hurt. I longed to be led off for a snog, even if the thought of it was terrifying.

At seventeen I fell in love, and fell hard, with a man twice my age. My mother was horrified and made every attempt to ensure the relationship ended. He, for some reason, did not want to be responsible for my deflowering, so asked me to manage that with someone else. Which I did. Never has the loss of what should have been so precious, taken place in such cold and calculated manner. I chose the partner and the place and the deed happened one December night. Painlessly I might add, because there was no hymen. I put that down to a horse-riding accident I had, when I landed hard on the pommel of the saddle shortly after the incident in the hut.

I was then given the chance to study drama, my first love, my dream career, in Johannesburg. Here I came of age. I learnt to drink, and then not to drink because it simply made me sick. But I also discovered that I was attracted to men older than myself. The first affair came to a tearful, guilty end when I discovered the man was married – I was the only one who didn’t know it seemed.

Thereafter the status of the men I took up with became less important. I was happy to continue ‘loving’ in secrecy and guilt – sex was a ritual that had little meaning, and less feeling. I’d been comforting myself in this regard for years, and was only able to reach any sort of climax after indulging in cruel, demeaning, sweaty fantasy. Secrecy, guilt, sex and love became synonymous – no wonder I made disastrous choices when it came to marriage.

My first husband was a sexual deviant, which repulsed me completely, but how did I refuse him? He was adamant my reticence was because I was ‘bent’ , that I resisted his ideas of fun because I was scared to admit my own perversion. Close to the bone that was. The result was total and painful frigidity. In order to prove that I was not bent or frigid, I had an affair. But finally my need to love in secret, in this particular way, meeting in small rooms in out of the way places, was one step too far and I ended it.

I felt dreadful. I had broken my marriage vows, my mother had died by then so I was all alone, my marriage was a disaster. Broken, guilt-ridden, in the deepest pit of despair, my only choice was up or out.

And here is really where my journey begins.

As I sat in my office that day, I heard a soft voice reminding me that a faithful witness had given me a bible many months previously. I had to find it. I flew home, dug around in a trunk of books that were not unpacked from a home move, and found the bible right at the bottom. I sat down and began to read right there in amongst that pile of books. In those pages I found the Father I had so longed to believe in all my life.

I remember the local village priest in Piggs Peak coming to see my parents to report that I attended his church on a Sunday morning. They seemed shocked, somehow, or amused, I’m not sure. But it was enough of a reaction to stop me going back. Over all those years, at least twenty of them, God had kept me in His sights, just as He has you!

Shortly after giving my heart to the Lord Jesus, I attended a revival where I was baptised in the Holy Spirit and began to talk in tongues. I was filled with joy, and for weeks felt as if I was walking above the ground.

The first evidence of new life in me, was not wanting a cigarette. I had smoked since my early teens. Automatically reaching for one a couple of weeks after my baptism experience, I suddenly didn’t want it. But, a word of warning here. I didn’t understand how huge that cleansing was, and a few weeks later when my husband asked me to light a cigarette for him, I carelessly agreed. Within three weeks I was hooked again, and it took me many decades to finally break free again.

‘My people die for a lack of knowledge’, the warning given by the prophet Hosea, (Chapter 4v6) is not one to be taken lightly. That freedom from nicotine addiction cost my Saviour dearly, brutalised with whips, and hung on a cross, and I did not esteem His sacrifice. Which might well be the reason I was not freed from the need to masturbate. I always put that together with smoking as my biggest sins.

Those habits, and sucking my thumb, were my means of comfort, my security blankets. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that masturbation is normal, and alright, because that is yet another lie from the pit of hell, that causes massive anguish in the hearts of those who are unable to resist the need.

The relief for me, of discovering that masturbation was listed, together with thumb-sucking, bed wetting, gluttony and other comforting activities, as a recognised symptom of childhood abuse was enormous. Since then I have counselled precious child after precious adult, devastated by their need for self-gratification, and having to deal with the self-loathing that it induces. The battle to stop is almost impossible in your own strength. The cord that binds that demonic power to you that was unleashed when you were abused needs to be broken in the name of Jesus, and His blood brought to bear against it.

Much research has been done on neurological cell memory, and given my own experience I believe they do retain memories. I just have to read a description of rape, see it suggested on screen, and I feel a sexual reaction. I’ve heard similar s from other people who have suffered molestation. Some cannot allow children to sit on their laps, or hug them in a certain way. Other interactions, which are completely normal for most people, may trigger a sexual response.

I said in an earlier blog that one way to defeat the effects of abuse is to bring what happens into the light. Once you understand what has happened to you, and what continues to happen to you, you can begin to deal with it.

The first step is to shed the shame. As I have said before, the shame belongs to the abuser, not you. God wants you to walk in freedom, His forgiveness and cleansing is absolute. If you need help with this, don’t hesitate to go for counselling. No counsellor will ever think less of you, so don’t be afraid.

The second step is to remind the devil of your status in Christ. I sometimes say out loud: “Satan, you may not touch me because I am bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ.”

This has been a tough blog to write. I don’t know if some of my friends will look at me the same way after reading this. But the need to reassure others who have, and are going through much of what I have been through, is more important than my feelings. I’ve held too many young girls while they sobbed out their anguish to keep quiet any longer. They need to know they are not alone, they are not freaks, they are not condemned to a life of despising themselves, having that guilt taint every relationship.

My God is in the restoring business. He says in Joel 2, from verse 25 that He ‘will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten’. Twice He reassures, in verses 26 and 27, ‘My people shall never be put to shame,’ so take hold of those promises, precious child, and run with them, straight into the arms of your loving Father!

He set me free, He will do the same for you.