Along Much-Afraid’s journey to the High Places, there were quite a few unexpected “wrong” turns.
(Didn’t get a chance to read Pt. I? Click here)
The very onset was a “Detour through the Desert.” Then, right after she ascended an impossible sea wall to overcome the Shores of Loneliness, her mirth was immediately truncated by a sharp bend in the trail that extended straight in front of her as far as her eyes could see, not toward the mountains, but straight away. She was struck dumb, standing still in dismay, and trembling all over at the prospect. As if this wasn’t enough, her opportunistic family and fiends antagonized her, voicing with venomous disdain the fears she held in her heart. They mocked her foolish hope, and told her over and over again that she had been duped. Abandoned. But the Shepherd interrupted the derision to tell her, “This further delay is not unto death, but for the glory of God; that the son of God may be glorified.” He assured her the path would turn back. She glanced between her options, and, choosing Him, pressed onward.
With each deviation it was His word versus her moment’s experience. She had to lay down her trust in what she saw and come to a greater level of trust in His promise. Sure enough, time and time again the promise would hold true and she would get closer to the mountains. Seeing his faithfulness made it a little easier to relinquish her doubts at subsequent detours, though it was still very painful. None of the detours were as devastating as the very last one, however. She had overcome a desert, an impassable ocean wall, injurious precipices, a dangerous forest, blinding mist (all done with crippled legs, mind you), her family’s persistent pestering throughout, and was closer than ever before to the High Places. There they were in plain sight, with all of their majesty and freedom within reach. Radiant with uncontainable joy and expectation to be led straight to them, she looked ahead to see the path turn away and plunge straight down to the elevation at which she first began. Her heart and countenance crashed to the ground, and she let out an appalled screech. After all of the waiting and perseverance and trusting and, was it not enough? Does she really have to start over? She’s already endured so much and is so close, yet here is the most drastic diversion yet! Why not finally grant her the High Places? It seems so unfair. So pointless. She considered turning back, but the mere thought of existence without Him so staggered and appalled her that it simply was not an option. “If you can deceive me, my Lord, about the promise and the hinds’ feet and the new name or anything else, you may, indeed you may; only don’t let me leave you. Don’t let anything turn me back.”
I could relate to walking a plunging path. It was at a very high point when my path turned and plummeted to depths I’d never been. I had school planned out, a career in mind, and the confidence to go for it. I had a huge heart for kids (only explained supernaturally) and was teaching them at church; it was refreshing, easy, and I loved it. A Christian college group had started up through which I was finally beginning to be a part of happenings with people my age. Passionate and unapologetic about my faith, I was never ashamed to get the word out. Though encircled by irascibility and unpredictable chaos at home, I was practically fireproof. Rather than getting upset and arguing with the nonsensical bullcrap around me, my attitude remained, “Meh, Jesus loves you. And so do I!” [Cheesy smile and thumbs up!]. People told me I had wisdom beyond my years in my decisions and discourse. Of course, crap still happened, stupid things were still said and done, but I had always been able to immediately hop up and dust off. Most importantly, all of this was done in His empowerment. Energy and strength abounded to get me through whatever came my way. Like a branch directly connected to the vine, growth was rapid, fruit was popping up all over, and I could foresee nothing but an ever upward, blue-sky climb to God’s huge plans ahead.
Then, around April/May of 2009, kind of out of nowhere, the path veered down and off. My quiet devotional time, which had formerly been flowing and easy, began to be strained. Prayer started becoming very difficult. His voice and presence in which I had dwelt slowly faded. However, I’ll never be able to forget the June summer evening that distance coalesced to absence. I found myself in my room, attempting to pray. The usual line of communication was gone. Not just far off anymore. Not distant. Gone. I’m not able to describe this adequately, but I abruptly felt very different and very wrong. I wept and wept and wept through the night, rocking in the fetal position with my Bible clutched to my chest, my insides repeatedly screaming an inaudible shriek that could have torn through heaven itself: PLEASE, PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME!
Something within me broke, and it broke hard. From that night on, I could no longer feel His presence, and I began a gradual downward spiral to what I consider Hell on earth. Not being able to find God for calm in the storm, the increasing chaos at home wore on me. I wasn’t fireproof anymore, and I began to fight back. I’d pray for patience, for help, but everything still ate away at my peace. Those things that were once effortless became more like trying to walk through shoulder-deep sludge. I’d ask for wisdom and guidance in upcoming “big” decisions, only to be met with ear-ringing silence. Lost, confused, and alone I wrote this portion of a sketchpad entry dated July 17th, 2009:
I’m groping for an explanation that isn’t there. I’m searching for possible reasons, and none will stand up to claim itself culprit…My heart aches in unfilled desire for its natural holder…I’ve never felt this empty before. Not even before You. Would You implant me with these cravings and not fill them? Would You put food in front of me without letting me eat? Would you give me water that quenches no thirst? Would You call my name and not answer my answer? Would You? I have no remedy if You are not it. I have nothing apart from you. NOTHING. Speak. Speak. Speak. Speak. Speak. Speak. Speak plainly. Speak plainly. Speak plainly. Speak plainly. Speak PLAINLY. SPEAK PLAINLY. SPEAK PLAINLY. SPEAK PLAINLY…
The rest crumbles on to illegibility.
The clock was ticking amidst the silence, and I was approaching a time that required decision and action. Faltering through the dark, I took what seemed the best out from my home with someone who ended up being just as imaginative, accusatory and impossible as my step-father but under a religious cloak. With my utter lack of strength, peace, and direction from God, I reacted. Details aren’t necessary, but crap hit the fan and it made a bleepin’ mess. Meanwhile, as I couldn’t feel His love and acceptance, I looked for ways to win it back, to try harder so I could earn it with performance. I added Bible study, a college-level Christian missions course, and volunteer work to my already busy school schedule. Exercise was a temporary relief, so I biked pretty much everywhere, up to 100+ miles per week, as well. My schedule never stopped, and neither did I. I longed for rest, but there was none. I had to keep doing.
That summer was characterized by such emptiness that even the August sun could not warm me. I didn’t know how to externalize or express this unfamiliar thing, this hollowness. I was afraid that if I did try to explain it to someone, they’d merely respond with a trite, “Well, you’re not empty. Christ is in you. Just stop. Feelings aren’t everything, you know.” Those things I knew, had lived, but could not be filled by any amount of reflection. Then there was the notion that if I’m tossed and torn by these things, walking in defeat rather than victory, if God’s presence and power were not evident in my life, then I’m not a true believer. I don’t have real faith. I’m fake. I’m a poser. My roommate certainly thought so, and afraid to be judged as such by my friends, I hid the fact that I was falling apart and fear took up residence in my cold, cavernous heart. Ugly, toxic, suffocating fear. Mind distrait and nerves threadbare, I thought if I just sought His face even more, done more, that I could break through the silence on my own, that God would come and surely He will hear me, surely His heart breaks seeing me on my knees begging over and over for relief. Surely his compassion would fall to ease my desperation. Surely, surely the One who had set me “free indeed” would come and remove these shackles. Things would get better. God could not possibly allow something like this to continue, not for His beloved. Yet He did. Day after day, month after month, circumstances worsened and by October I withdrew to an empty shell, unable to respond to the outside world, devoid of hope and paralyzed.
Long story short (haha!?), I eventually came out of the paralysis and haven’t quite reached such an abyss. But since that point, I’d been pushing to find some sort of progress, and it’d been one step forward, two steps back. Each time the path seemed to almost turn toward the High Places, another turn away from them was right behind the corner. Detoured again. Deferred again. Broken. Again. How could God let this happen? Where is He? Why defer for two years? What’s the point? Angry and confused, there were Sundays where, sure, I’d show up on the premises but I wouldn’t stay inside the sanctuary. Rather, I’d go for a walk, stay upstairs alone, or lay out on the grass. One Sunday in particular, I refused to go to church at all but instead went on a 500+ mile drive. Five years of my life, my trust, my hope, my everything I gave to the calling of His higher places. Was it a wasted nothing? I was pissed, cynical, and questioning if I could actually trust a God who would allow the things I’d been through and who would delay for so long, even while I sought Him. On that drive I considered letting go, removing myself from the path, extricating myself from church. From the Bible. From God. I couldn’t sit on the fence anymore, waiting for some miracle to turn everything around. I was either all in, or all out. Standing at a proverbial crossroads, it was time to weigh God’s word:
“…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”
“… His favor is for a lifetime; weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”
“When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers them out of them all.”
“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
“…He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
“For the LORD will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage.”
“GOD is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”
“‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.”
“…You know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the LORD your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed.”
1 Kings 8:56
“Blessed be the LORD, who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised; not one word has failed of all His good promise, which He promised through Moses His servant.”
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”
2 Timothy 2:13,19
“If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself…”
1 Thessalonians 5:24
“Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.”
“Your loving-kindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.”
1 Corinthians 1:9
“God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Psalm 89:1, 2, 33, 34
“I will sing of the loving-kindness of the LORD forever; to all generations I will make known Your faithfulness with my mouth. For I have said, ‘Loving-kindness will be built up forever; in the heavens You will establish Your faithfulness. But I will not break off My loving-kindness from him, nor deal falsely in My faithfulness. My covenant I will not violate, nor will I alter the utterance of My lips.’”
“…and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
1 Peter 4:12-13
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
“‘For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but My loving kindness will not be removed from you, and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,’ Says the LORD who has compassion on you.”
“My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”
“Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay.”
“For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me up.”
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
God has either abandoned me, or God will never, ever depart from me.
One of these things is true. One of these things is false.
Do I trust Him?
From my lips He has drawn an excruciating, “Yes.”
I would love nothing more than to say that once deciding in the affirmative, that everything has been magically set aright and I’ve turned to the heights. It is not so. I’ve regained what has felt like a millimeter by millimeter increase in elevation, and I still feel as though I’m wandering in a direction opposite the High Places. I can’t claim any of His wisdom, direction, or power, and I’m struggling with much of the same old same old. For now, I’m just surviving along this winding path. But, hey, I am surviving. God is far greater than a faith-bought cosmic gumball machine, anyway, and He never gave His word for immediate anything. He simply promised.
It is arduous business, this persevering, when the High Places aren’t on the horizon to urge you onward. Yet “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.” (I Samuel 15: 29) And “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19)
These things within and before me tell me You’re gone, that perhaps You never were and what I knew and lived after accepting Christ was a cheap fluke. But even my senses, though they are the only things I have for the acquisition of human knowledge and experience, are prone to feed deception to my soul. You promised me, and although it looks and feels as if You mislead me about the hinds’ feet and the High Places and everything else, still will I trust, because I firmly believe that You will not, indeed cannot, deceive me. Only don’t let me turn back.