This isn’t an easy post to write, and it’s been siting in “draft” for a while – both in my head and on my blog. Some people have heard bits and pieces of this story, some people have been trusted with the depths, but I’ve not openly shared the depth and pain of the journey that God has taken me on as He’s brought me through the desert over the last year or so.
Perhaps the background to this post should be Hillsong’s “Thank you Jesus” which was sung in my church recently and promoted the overflowing grace to break open my heart and let you see inside it.
Last month was the first time I opened up and shared about my journey in front of a group. When I was praying about what topic to share about with the ladies, God prompted me with the word “Rest.” I laughed (a somewhat terrified laugh) as I knew I was being asked to be open, real, and honest. This journey towards rest that God has taken me on has included breaking me in many ways, but has brought me to a place of being held in my Heavenly Father’s arms, resting in peace and comfort. So here we go….
My breaking point from cultural stresses, daily sexual harassment, loneliness, constant travel, and a lack of deep community came the end of 2014. I found myself curled up on my bed, sobbing, trying to keep myself from packing my bags at 1am to take a taxi to the airport and get on a plane to the USA. Burnout had hit me HARD. It took a lot of counseling, advice, and wrestling before I could admit that I needed to return to the US and reevaluate where I needed to serve (which God confirmed by changing visa laws – AFTER I made the decision).
That, dear Readers, is the starting point of this journey of rest. I won’t go into all the details, but I want to share three areas in which I’ve been learning to rest.
The first area is Spiritual Rest. Having spent so much time away from the church I attended in Ethiopia (which I barely understood as it was) meant I didn’t have restful Sabbaths often. So I would download podcasts when I was out of country (when I had reliable-ish internet) and would sit and listen to my church’s podcasts on Sundays, playing my music as I just sat on my bed, trying to connect with God. But He still felt distant.
When I returned to the US – thinking I was only staying three months – I decided to drive an hour to what I considered my home church. I found myself burnt out, wrung out, and poured out with nothing left to give, so I slipped into church most Sundays while refusing to serve and fought the guilt of that. I spent months in “hibernation”, not able to draw up the emotional energy to be around people. My devotional time consisted of a simple devotional book I had found as reading Scripture just sent me into crying fits. Or, I would sit on my bed with songs I had picked out for my “Sweetly Broken” playlist, imagining myself curled up in God’s arms, and crying.
But in all that pain, doing minimal other than showing up in church, listening to music, and sometimes reading, I found God’s comfort and healing. Taking away the guilt I had for not serving, He helped me see it was my time to be served – something I never really allow myself to receive. He had me stumble upon a book called “The Contrarian’s Guide to Knowing God” by Larry Osborne. I discover that spiritual disciplines are like tools in a toolbox – and at that moment I needed worship more than anything else. Ultimately, I learned that what I was able to give was a sweet-smelling aroma to Him; that I could rest in His provision and comfort and find the rest and peace I needed.
Secondly, I learned about Physical Rest. Our 2 a.m. water runs to fill our multiple water barrels in order for us to have water until the next time it came back on were exhausting. The constant travel never allowed me to establish an exercise routine to continue to strengthen my back. I had had a car accident six months before leaving for Africa and then another one two months after returning. Chronic pain was just “a part of life.”
My sabbatical was in part medical leave as I struggled to get out of bed each morning, sometimes not succeeding until the afternoon. I remember the day I was so excited that my shuffling was fast enough to keep pace with a 14-year-old dog! God blessed me with a Christian chiropractor who worked with me to find healing. I also learned it was okay to move slow, take naps, and rest. I struggled past the guilt and found it was okay to let my body dictate my needs. I learned to say “no” to things I was asked to do, or even wanted to do, but knew that it would create further damage. I learned to let go of my pride and let others help me.
Perhaps the hardest to learn about was Emotional Rest. Admitting you regularly saw a counselor seems like it’s a “taboo” within Christian culture but it is such an amazing resource to allow God to work through someone else to help you find healing and wrestle through issues. There is no way I would have been able to work through my anxiety and PTSD and loneliness and everything else without my counselors. I find myself ever so grateful that Wycliffe provides licensed counselors for us who have walked the same paths we have as missionaries. My counselor in the US understood from personal experience what unexpected leaving felt like and could understand what the daily stripping of dignity and safety due to sexual harassment did to one’s self.
But it’s not just the counselors, but my family, my Wycliffe mom, and my prayer team (though they didn’t know it) who were also lifting up my arms like Aaron and Hur. It was the understanding of people who would answer questions for me, at the same time speaking life into me, as I was asked questions about what life held for me in the US and what was I going to be doing. The trips to spend weeks with my siblings and a trip with my LifeGroup to just “be” brought peace to my soul as I laughed, read, sat outside, and had no pressures or expectations placed on me. I started to find life again, to enjoy being around people and finding the energy to initiate.
Then one Sunday, during an altar call, I went up front to just pray and release all my worries about what I was supposed to be doing next even while knowing I wasn’t 100% but on the path to wholeness. There, on my knees, one of my pastors’ wives found me and prayed healing over me. Words fail me to describe the physical and spiritual presence felt, but God broke chains and released me from my negativity and brought healing and peace, while finding myself able to trust and rest wholly in Him.
So I’ve learned over this journey that it’s ok to be selfish and take the time needed to heal and rest. Most importantly, I’ve learned how NOT to serve; to identify what my needs are in order to effectively serve others. I need community, less travel, balance, and safety. I’ve learned to set boundaries – something most people proclaim is good, but do not enforce and often try to step on your own if they don’t align with their own.
And here concludes this telling of a painful (literally and metaphorically) journey as I am stepping into a new season. A season of resting in God Almighty while going on an adventure with Him, because He is in control; He is guiding; and He is continuing to heal.
So I ask you – In what ways do you need to rest? In what ways do you need to relearn how to serve others? What boundaries are lacking in your own life? And how is Almighty God brining you into rest and communion with Him?