Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Testimony, Part 4D - God's Guidance

"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."
[Isaiah 55:9]

"Now we know only a little, and even the gift of prophecy reveals little! But when the end comes, these special gifts will all disappear...Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now." [I Corinthians 13:9-10,12 NLT]

Continued from last week...
(see "Testimony, Part 4c - The Teabag is in the Tea" 9/22/10)

I am thankful for all of the ways God speaks, without which so many things in life would make hardly any sense at all. He speaks through scripture (primarily), nature, dreams, visions, ideas, circumstances, and spiritual gifts like words of wisdom and knowledge that may be perceived in our own “quiet time” or spoken to us by other people. All these types of “clues” or signposts are described in the Bible, although discerning them accurately can be a murky business. God is pure light and truth, but His wisdom is so multi-faceted and complex, our imperfect human nature barely sees one step at a time. In my next two postings (9/29 & 10/6), we’ll explore some “ups & downs” of learning to follow God’s pathway through this life.

Words of Warning

Mario and I getting back together after 25 years was the kind of love story everybody wanted to end with "happily ever after." Friends, family, co-workers, baristas at my neighborhood Starbucks and medical staff at Mario's treatment center - everyone wanted us to work out. Well, maybe not everyone.

A couple of weeks after I got back from Colorado, a church member asked how my trip went. While I was happily describing the events of last week's posting, I could almost see the little black cloud over her head, ominously preparing to "rain on my parade," as they say. "I've been praying for you," she said. "I have a word from God for you, and it’s not what you want to hear."

OK, first of all – that is not a good way to start "a prophetic word." Here's my problem with that kind of language: are you prophesying my reaction before you let me hear the message? Or is that a self-fulfilling prophecy, where you alienate me in advance so I won't want to hear whatever you say next? I'm just kidding - sort of. Here's what I really think: no word from God is ever negative; even if it's correction or re-direction, it is always loving and true and for my good. So bring it on! If it's really from God, of course I want to hear what my loving heavenly Father has to say to me.

This lady felt strongly that I shouldn’t be involved with Mario. She pointed out that he didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and scripture forbids being “unequally yoked.” [II Corinthians 6:14 – 7:1] I tried to explain that I hadn't slept with him or married him, and that God might build on his Catholic faith, but she was adamant: I was way too involved and this was not a good idea, God would not put me together with someone who didn't really know Him. Her husband also questioned the pastor's wisdom in blessing my trip to Colorado. (This couple later left our church over differences with church leaders on other unrelated matters).

Some of you may wonder why I listened at all. God uses imperfect people. We can miss God's heart or tone or timing in any number of ways - that doesn't necessarily mean that everything about the message is false. So, just in case God is trying to speak to me through an imperfect human being, I've learned to take things to God and ask Him what to do with what was just said. I don't automatically accept or reject a “prophetic word” without praying. I simply ask Him.

As the scripture above this posting tells us, prophetic understanding gives us little glimpses of the truth. And that's exactly what God showed me about this situation: this lady had a piece of the truth, like 1/12th of a pie or 5 minutes on the face of a 60-minute clock. Her piece happened to be a "dark cloud" on what otherwise looked like a mostly beautiful horizon. And if she'd understood that her piece of the truth was just that, a piece of the truth (not the whole), she might have communicated differently. She might have felt less like everything about this relationship was wrong, and she might have taken a different tone. Her piece of the truth didn't negate the other 55 minutes on the clock or 11 other slices of God's "big picture" pie.

But it was a legitimate warning: Mario didn't know God the way I did, and his priorities - his ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving - were not submitted to the Holy Spirit. It's not that I was “perfect” or better than he was - it's that I was trying to follow Jesus (as best I knew how), and he barely knew Him. You can read about Abraham Lincoln in a history book or see President Obama on TV - that doesn't mean you know them. Mario didn't have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, so how could he follow Him? "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" [Amos 3:3]

I knew that my heart was deeply attached to a man who hadn’t fully committed his heart to God, and the future we were hoping for was not guaranteed. I didn’t think God was asking me to give up or withdraw from someone I loved in the middle of his cancer treatment. All I could see to do at this point was continue to pray and hope for the best with Mario, keeping my focus on God as much as possible. Ultimately, the future of this relationship was not in my hands.

Sliding Down the Mountain

I had a dream at the end of December that helped me understand what began to happen in November – I’m telling it here because it helps to summarize the next two months. In the dream, I was staying at a motel across from Cheyenne mountain, which is at the south end of Colorado Springs and littered with radio towers. The mountainside was beginning to shift, and workmen in hardhats were feverishly constructing cinderblock walls around the base of a very large radio tower to prevent it from sliding down the mountain. As I looked up at the scene, it dawned on me, and I said aloud, “That is way too big a job for me!” I thought maybe I could bring some coffee to the workmen - help out in some small way - but I knew full well in that moment that preventing the ultimate landslide was way beyond my own individual ability.

Most people go through a process of “coming to the end of themselves” which causes them to recognize their need for God, and it can be hard for loved ones to watch that happen. I believe that Mario’s life was “sliding down the mountain” and I was trying to save him, at least in part, so that I could have his love in the end. Mario’s medical team, friends and family also wanted him to get well, but ultimately none of us could control what was happening in his life. And only one or two of them (that I knew of ) were committed Christians: an old friend from his radio days who’d retired and moved north – they met for lunch in November, although Mario reported no deep spiritual conversation – and his youngest sister, who lived in Florida.

During my visit to Colorado – while God had his attention and he was so thrilled to see me –Mario told me he hadn’t spoken to his sister in 3 years because she'd “preached” at him after she got saved, quoting “chapter and verse” from the Bible on every phone call. Softened by circumstances, he understood when I explained that this was her way of expressing her love for him, by caring about his soul. When she called in November and they reconnected, I was so relieved! It felt like “the cavalry” had arrived - reinforcements. I was getting weary.

Mario’s chemo went well for the first two months, but then the effects of weekly treatments began to accumulate. By Thanksgiving, his hemoglobin and energy level plummeted. He labored to breathe during our nightly phone calls, so talking began to feel like a burden. It was hard not to worry about his health, and there wasn't much either of us could do for the other long-distance. The relationship began to feel unsteady.

One day he called me “Pollyanna” for encouraging him to believe that God answers prayer - recalling the little girl who brought joy to a town full of bitter people, I said I was OK with that. But Mario became surly more often, losing patience as his energy and strength diminished. Anxiety distracted me from God's peace. I felt like I was carrying a 300-lb man, and I was getting “out of breath,” spiritually and emotionally. “Saving Mario” was way too big a task for me.

Considering his health issues, I wish I’d had the patience and objectivity to step back without fear - but I didn’t. On December 1 (of course I remember the exact date), his emails took a curt and sarcastic tone, so I called him that evening to see what was bothering him. My concern only frustrated him further, and I found myself asking, defensively, “Do we need to take a break?”

He hesitated for a moment, and then decided. “Yes,” he said angrily, “That’s a great idea!” and he hung up the phone. I had a terrible feeling he might never call me again.

Staying in the River

If Mario had been able to say, “Gina, I’m sorry, I love you but I’m feeling so sick, I just don’t have the energy for a long distance relationship right now” – it probably would have hurt a lot anyway. But here was another imperfect human being, and he was struggling for life and breath. Mario fired off 3 angry emails that sounded nothing like the man who had been my best friend every day for the last 3 ½ months, saying “Gina’s crazy*** feelings” were too much for him, and it was over.

I was devastated. In my mind’s eye, I kept seeing Mario losing his balance and toppling over as the rug was pulled out from under him, and I wondered if I had done that – God seemed to be telling me, “It’s not your fault.” Having my hopes raised so high then suddenly dashed, the grief was enormous – I did six sessions with a counselor in December-January. She explained about “transitional” relationships and, coincidentally, had been rejected by a close friend herself when her cousin’s cancer took a turn for the worse. In prayer, I lay on the floor and cried before the Lord, who spoke to me through Isaiah 42:3 of His profound mercy and grace: “He will not crush those who are weak or quench the smallest hope. He will bring full justice to all who have been wronged.” I hoped that God wasn’t finished with all of this, but Mario needed to rest and get through his treatment. I let him go, and continued to pray for him as a friend.

Between January and July 2007, I received 3 more emails from Mario. Each one was a health report in response to a friendly email inquiry from me. The first two arrived on January 24, after his PET scan: “Tumor is almost gone.” When I praised God and asked about further treatment, he replied: “Next phase is a chemo injection once a week for six weeks, then once a month for six months - then take another scan.” I felt he wanted me to keep praying.

I didn’t hear anything more from Mario until July 7, when he replied to another “how are you doing?” with 3 paragraphs that sounded like they were copied from an e-newsletter to his other friends. He was cancer-free! But, as I re-read his email, I noticed - between the lines of cheerful gratitude for his medical team and supportive friends – he was homebound, on oxygen 24/7, with fluid around his heart. Still hopeful that the aftereffects of chemo would resolve, he concluded, “I'm telling you, since you've been pulling for me.” Whether or not that line had also been addressed to others, I sensed he was thankful for my prayers and asking me to continue.

On Sunday, July 29, 2007 – after a church conference in Toronto – the words in the following paragraph were spoken to me by a member of the TACF prophetic team. The woman who said these words had never met me before, and I’d told her nothing about myself or my situation – I just lined up for ministry, and she spoke what she felt the Holy Spirit gave her to say to me. Because this was recorded on cassette – a practice which allows visitors to pray and evaluate prophetic words at home – I was able to transcribe verbatim here. I’m sharing this for two reasons: (1) it still amazes me, as I write this story, how accurately these simple words spoke encouragement, comfort, and strength for exactly where I was at that moment; and (2) it speaks in a general way to all of us about God's faithfulness to lead us through even our most incomprehensible circumstances, if only we will “stay in the river” - immersed and following the Holy Spirit - even when we don’t fully understand yet where He’s going, what He’s doing, or why:

“And what I saw was a picture of a river, and rivers don’t take a straight path, and I felt that that was representative of your walk, that you just ‘where am I going now’ kind of thing and ‘how come I’m going this way’…and the river curves around the land and weaves its way through the land, it isn’t a straight path, so I just want to encourage you that they’re not detours, that the Lord has a purpose with each turn and with each connection, and sometimes we don’t see it till we look back. When we’re in it, we just don’t see it, and we’re thinking that we’re wasting time, we’re thinking that we’re not getting to our destination, but the Lord’s pretty patient, a lot more patient than we are, and He takes His time working through us and in us, and developing what He wants to do along the way, so that we are ready when we get there. And I just want to encourage you to do with the river as well, to just stay in the river, to just stay in the river, and I mean that spiritually, to just follow where the Spirit is going and to just know that He has you in His hand, and He knows exactly what He’s doing and you haven’t missed it.”

To be continued…


Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct
your paths.

[Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJ]

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