(Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash)
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set
my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a
new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
Last time I wrote about coming out of the pit and told you that after I joined the Mission Board, I was about to turn another corner. At the point of joining, I was still looking for a way to get closer to God. I still wasn't convinced that He loved me or if He did, I wasn't capable of receiving it. It came to my mind to ask the lady I would be replacing if she thought being on the Missions board helped her get closer to God. She said, "Yes, she thought it did." So I accepted.
I was serving on the Mission Board for maybe a year, and nothing had changed. That's when the director asked me to go on a mission trip with the church. Apparently, I was the only one who hadn't. I recently had started working at the high school as a lunch lady, and I was under the assumption that the school wouldn't let me off work, so I asked if I could go with the youth the next summer. The youth pastor agreed, and it was set. I would help lead the youth mission trip in June 2007. As I thought about what the trip would be like, I realized that working as a lunch lady at the high school and leading high school students were two completely different things. My nerves started to kick in. Why in the world did I think I could lead youth? Or even interact with them? Had I made a mistake?
When we started meeting as a group for pre-meetings, I was very quiet. One lady, who had worked with the youth in the past was also going as a leader, along with the pastor's wife. The three of us were the women leaders of the group. The one lady, who I will call Dorothy, was super comfortable with the students, and I knew I was the wrong choice. But because I had promised the Mission Board I would go on a mission trip, I didn't back out. When the day was almost here, I was petrified. I knew I needed God to help me. I asked the woman who led the prayer team at our church to pray for me. She brought in a couple of other prayer warriors, and while the three of them were praying, I felt a sense of peace come over me. I was still scared, but no longer petrified. I don't remember anything they said, but I knew God was there.
The trip itself was life-changing. I sat next to a high school girl on the first plane ride, and we connected. But after we got there, fear started coming back. I remember the first day we went to church, and the group decided to walk home. After the service was over, I was overcome with a feeling of being alone and invisible. I started to cry, and no one noticed. I walked in the back behind everyone else, and no one saw me. I couldn't shake it. As I sunk further and further into despair, a familiar scenario began to play out. Loneliness and rejection would be my only friends, I thought. I cried out to God not expecting anything, but soon, both of the women leaders joined me. They were the greatest encouragers ever! For the rest of the trip, I never once felt invisible. They were right there telling me I could do it when it was time for us to pray over the students. I had never successfully prayed aloud for anyone. I was paired up with Dorothy, and she kept encouraging me. I began to believe I could do it, which was surprising to me because Dorothy was soooo good at praying. Normally, I would have been freaked out! The whole afternoon, the words, "Strength will rise as you wait upon the Lord," from a popular song on Christian radio kept running through my mind and the words helped me. I don't remember anything I prayed over the students who came to us, but I prayed, and I was "on top of the world" excited for what I accomplished.
Near the end of the trip, Dorothy told me about a prayer ministry she was involved in and asked if she could spend some time with me, praying for freedom. I jumped at the chance. For six months, her and another lady, met with me once/week to pray. They invited God into our time together, and He brought specific memories to my mind that needed attention. Many, many lies, beliefs, and truths were uncovered during those six months. One particular moment stands out. I don't remember the memory we were on, but I do remember shouting, "What difference does it make if God loves me? I want people to love me." At that moment, I can only describe it as something falling off of me. I think it was the lies I believed about me not being capable of receiving God's love. It's like God was saying, "I will show you what difference it makes to know I love you." God's love was and is incredible!
One of the greatest gifts I received besides knowing how much God loved me, was a love for His Word. I came home from work every day and immediately opened my Bible to read. If you will remember, reading the Bible was the one thing I refused to do in the past. Another gift I received was the knowledge and conviction that God spoke to me. Before, I couldn't imagine it, but once I started believing He would talk to me, I began to hear Him. I made a list of all the truths I had heard, and it was clear I had been hearing God all along. Even back to the day when it came to my mind to ask the lady I would be replacing on the Mission Board, if she thought it would bring me closer to God. That was the Holy Spirit! I joined the church youth group as a leader and started a prayer ministry with the students. I believed God had put me there and now He would use me for His purposes. I realized I especially connected with students who were quieter, or unsure of themselves in this environment. I loved praying for the students. I was still quiet and unsure of myself at times but mostly convinced that God was using me in spite of myself. After all, the Bible says that God uses the weak. He "chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong" (1 Cor 1:27), and He says to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Paul responds by saying that for Christ's sake, he delights in weaknesses...for when he is weak, then he is strong (2 Cor 12:9-10). That God uses me is a truth that I still need to be reminded of, but at the time of my freedom, I was able to see it more clearly.
Staying free doesn't just happen. I am learning this lesson over and over. In the next and last chapter of my story, I will talk about the life of staying free, and how valuable it is to know what this means. Getting free is fantastic, but staying free is a journey in itself!