From time to time I am going to share some of my story with you on Faith Notes. I have lived through many painful experiences in my life where the Lord faithfully revealed Himself to me, but I had to learn to open my eyes to see Him and I had to learn to literally be still and remember that He is my God and I am His child. Hard lessons. Eternal lessons. Lessons for which I am grateful.
Today I am sharing the very first time the Lord revealed Himself to me in an extraordinary way.
Joy in My Wilderness
My mom died of breast cancer at the age of forty-six. I was twenty. I was also a new Christian, having met Jesus a year before her illness. I stormed the gates of heaven for mom’s healing, and yet she died. I was devastated. My newfound faith was shaken. My bustling young life spiraled downward into a pit of numbness and dark silence.
A close friend gave me the book, Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. This powerful book is an allegory of our Christian journey. It’s the story of a young pilgrim, Much-Afraid, who is traveling with her two companions, Sorrow and Suffering. They’re journeying to the High Places to meet the Chief Shepherd. Much-Afraid is the one who taught me to find joy in my wilderness places.
One thing, however, made a special impression upon Much-Afraid. In all that great desert, there was not a single green thing growing, neither tree nor flower nor plant save here and there a patch of straggly grey cacti.
On the last morning she was walking near the tents and huts of the desert dwellers, when in a lonely corner behind a wall she came upon a little golden-yellow flower, growing all alone. An old pipe was connected with a water tank. In the pipe was one tiny hole through which came an occasional drop of water. Where the drops fell one by one, there grew the little golden flower, though where the seed had come from, Much-Afraid could not imagine, for there were no birds anywhere and no other growing things.
She stopped over the lonely, lovely little golden face, lifted up so hopefully and so bravely to the feeble drip, and cried out softly, “What is your name, little flower, for I never saw one like you before?”
The tiny plant answered at once in a tone as golden as itself, “Behold me! My name is Acceptance-with Joy.”
Somehow the answer of the little golden flower which grew all alone in the waters of the desert stole into her heart and echoed there faintly but sweetly, filling her with comfort. She said to herself, “He has brought me here when I did not want to come for his own purpose. I, too, will look up into his face and say, ‘Behold me! I am thy little handmaiden Acceptance-with Joy’.”
This is powerful stuff, isn’t it? Well, get ready. I’m going to blow your socks off. Remember, I first read this book shortly after my mom died. I was a devastated young woman trying desperately to hold on to the hand of Jesus.
I read through that section of Hinds’ Feet on High Places and then set the book down on my bed. I needed to walk. I needed to think. I needed to pray. I grabbed a light jacket and walked out into our backyard. The days had been crisp because an early fall settled into the Charlotte area. Dad was a gardener, filling his days with tilling the ground God had given him. Our backyard brimmed with plants and trees. Daddy especially enjoyed azaleas. If you’ve ever traveled south, you’re familiar with the glorious azaleas of spring. Their delightful shades of pink, purple, fuchsia, and red stir up the joys of new beginnings after long, cold winters.
Like I said, azaleas bloom in the spring.
Momma died on September 2, 1975.
I stood in the backyard, tears streaming, my heart breaking. I implored the Lord to help me come to terms with Momma’s death. I begged Him to help me find His joy in this wilderness — this desert place.
I wiped my tears with the sleeve of my jacket. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a pop of fuchsia in the fall foliage. What is that? I walked over to a cluster of azaleas at the base of an oak tree. There, surrounded by leaves beginning their fall sabbatical, was one, solitary bloom. An azalea bloom. In September. In Charlotte, NC. Oh my goodness!
“Lord, You heard me!” I shouted to the heavens. “You’ve given me my joy in the wilderness, my little Acceptance-with Joy. Thank You, Lord. Thank You for loving me so much. Help me to walk in Your joy.”
Can you imagine? I mean, really. God, the Creator of the Universe, did that for me. Well, guess what? It gets better. Are you ready? Fast-forward twenty-eight years.
Daddy was beginning to let go of this world. Leukemia ravaged his body, but Jesus strengthened his soul. He reached his hands toward heaven and mumbled something indiscernible. My stepmom and I stood at his bedside, keeping him comfortable, waiting for the inevitable. “Go to the Light, Daddy. We’ll be okay. Please, go to His Light.”
And he did.
My heart was broken. I wandered from Daddy’s bedroom and stared numbly out the window. I thanked God for my dad. I asked the Lord to hold me, to comfort me with His love. And then I asked Him for something extraordinary. I asked Him for joy in the wilderness, my very own Acceptance-with-Joy.
I looked out of the bay window toward the sidewalk. I could see the color fuchsia among the fall foliage. I stepped outside and stood in wide-eyed amazement. This time it was the end of October in Charlotte, NC. Yes, I said the end of October. There among the leaves beginning their fall sabbatical was a solitary bloom. An azalea bloom. In Charlotte. In October.
Imagine! God had heard my cry once again.
I raised my face toward heaven, and with tears coursing down my cheeks, gave praise to my Jesus. He had kissed me with His grace. I felt the arms of everlasting Love enfold me. God’s peace flooded my heart and filled in the broken places with the joy of His Presence.
Am I someone special? No. God is no respecter of persons. Each of us is His special treasure. He pursues us with His love. He delights in revealing His goodness to His children.
So I’m no more special than you are, but I set my heart, my mind, my soul, and my strength to find joy in my wilderness. I opened my eyes to see the Spirit of God with me, to find acceptance of His will with joy. And I’m learning — He is our joy, our great reward.
This post is an excerpt from my book, The Perils of a Pastor’s Wife.
It is taken from Chapter 6: Joy in the Wilderness, The Peril of Despair
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Nan, thank you for sharing. My mom died at 40. I was 21 with no faith. Your journey and His attention to you made evident in the flowers is a miracle made for you. If we listen and watch, He has miracles for all. May God bless your body and soul this Friday November 3, 2017.
Julie, you are so precious. Thank you for your kind words. I can’t imagine going through that without Jesus. Forty-two years later I still miss my momma. I’m so thankful that even before YOU knew Jesus, HE knew you and was drawing you to Himself. Isn’t that amazing?
I love how God shows up and shows off right when we need Him so He can receive the honor and glory not only at that moment but as a reminder to us for the rest of our lives that He will never leave us nor forsake us even in our darkest hours. 🙂
I couldn’t agree more. He is an upfront and personal God. It astounds me that He created the entire universe and yet He not only knows my name, but holds me in the palm of His hand where I am safe and comforted. It’s beyond amazing and I’m so thankful.
Beautiful, Nan. I remember this from your book. So moving, so powerful that the Lord would see fit to hear your prayer and give you a wonderful sign of His love and His joy. Oh, how He loves us a thousand times over!
This is beautiful, Nan. Difficult, deep, and beautiful. Thank you for sharing. It is such a good reminder for me to seek how God specifically loves me. Love you!