I feel like I would be missing an opportunity if I didn't stop and reflect for a few moments on what God has brought me through in these years moving to Denver. The funny thing is that I grew up in an actual desert, but He brought me somewhere lush and green to teach me about wandering, about trusting Him and about humility.
A couple Fridays ago I was asked to speak on part of my story of redemption at our women's Bible study at church. As I prepared for it and reflected on this season that I am still in, I was overwhelmed with gratefulness that God was giving me this chance to say out loud all He had brought me through, all He had taught me and I was overcome with His goodness. That as hard as these five years have been here, I am not the same person I was when I moved here. I heard a talk recently where the woman said God doesn't want us to miss the rose for the thorns. That I was so aware of the thorn after thorn after thorn, yet looking back and seeing what God has done, I see that rose.
When we moved to Denver it was to be a part of a church plant and I was filled with expectation and really hoping for relief in a new life from something that I was already suffering in. I was in full fledged postpartum depression and it was severe. My life's circumstances were piling up on me, one after the other and I began to break. For these past five years I can only classify them as brokenness.
There were so many little pieces that I blamed things on, situations, relationships, and I really just stopped talking to God. I blamed Him in many ways, I isolated myself and blamed everything and everyone. Mostly I blamed myself, for not being a good enough Christian and not being able to pull myself up by my bootstraps. For knowing truth but feeling helpless to do anything with that truth. I was angry, bitter, and my depression grew and grew.
I kept looking for relief, trying to control things or make changes, but ultimately I would end up back on my face. On top of that, we as a family seemed to deal with one blow after another. Thinking back on our second year in and sitting on our apartment balcony not knowing then how we were going to make it, trying to then trust God with the little I had. It felt like Manna, the day by day provision, but that wasn't what I wanted. I wanted the long term plan, I wanted the nice stuff like "everyone else" seemed to have, but Manna it was, and so it continued.
Many, many hard things happened; the church plant didn't take off, my relationships (especially with my mom) were disasters, we lost income, we lost our vehicle, I was suicidal, I dislocated my knee, we lost a job, I lost my tooth, we lost our independence and we lost Daniel's dad and the boys grand-daddy.
Many, many amazing things happened as well; I trained and ran two marathons, my relationship with my mom was fully restored, God provided for us (albeit in what I considered humiliating ways), God brought us to and ministered to a great church. Even up to 5 families related to us also moved out to Denver through our first move to come here. We got pregnant with and had our silly, amazing Eisy and most of all God did a work inside me I could have never ever have learned or known without all of the hard things.
When I went through my testimony I realized that God took from me everything that I considered security or my identity. Money, appearance, church "position(s)", relationships, self reliance, health. One by one each was stripped from me and I finally got to the point with the Lord where I just realized, I could walk through it with Him, or I could walk through it alone, blaming Him. I decided that I was just going to choose Him. That was the 2nd of January, that second day my knee dislocated and I found myself in the back of an ambulance. And for the rest of that year up until now God has taught me what it means to truly rely on Him, every moment and every day. That in fact, control is a super big illusion and hoping in jobs and money and a full set of teeth ;) is not real, all of that can crumble, and it did. The only thing that is worth putting all of my hope, trust, dreams, life in, is Him and Him alone.
It would take me a book to write all the things God spoke and taught me through this time. I couldn't begin to even really put my whole mind around it.
Knowing Him from such a young age and serving Him and loving Him for so long, you think you got it on lock. You even base your identity in your knowledge. I feel God spoke to me when I was living overseas that my calling was that of Is 61, like Jesus. But that, in Him, I would bring into light those that sit in darkness and free those in captivity, help bring healing to the brokenhearted. I was going to help "those" poor people.
Through this season He showed me, it's not me and them, it's just us. I learned what it meant to need a Savior. That I didn't need a Savior just one time when I was saved at 6 years old, that I needed Him to save me again and again, day after day. That I was the one that was brokenhearted, I was the one sitting in darkness, I was was the one in chains, and I was there helpless and wanted to be saved. I wanted my church to save me, some pastoral leader, my friends, my family, Daniel, anyone...and all I found were blank stares and no answers. No one could do it, no one would do it. Finally, I gave up. I surrendered, and I let the one who loves me and formed me and knows me, I let Him begin to save me...one moment at a time. One thought at a time.
My mind had become so broken. Every thought negative, destructive, hopeless. I thought them about others, and mostly I thought them towards myself. He taught me what it meant to receive from Him, even when I was ugly, even when I had nothing to offer Him, even when I felt useless and like a beggar for His bread. That there was not one thing that I brought to the table, I was nothing but needy. I had to stop thinking I could be good enough, do enough, change something. If I have said it once, I will say it till the day I die. Grace saved me, but I thought it was up to me to change me, and I was nothing but a failure. I couldn't change myself, I couldn't get myself back on track, I couldn't save myself. No amount of prayer journaling and serving at church was going to do it. I had to simply agree with the Lord, repent, and throw myself as fully as I could into His grace and depend on Him to change me.
For someone who "grew up good" I never understood grace. This season, receiving from God something I couldn't fix and could never earn, I now understand it in a way I am so grateful for. Day by day God spoke to me who I was in Him, something I could never know outside of spending time with Him. As He spoke to me about who He was and who I was in Him, then He began to renew my mind. He taught me how to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Him, one thought at a time. And, He freed me.
He had a plan bringing me to Denver. Back in Northern Ireland I heard Him almost tell me the verses He spoke to Peter about Satan asking to sift him like wheat, but that He would pray for him. The things He wanted to remove from me, that couldn't come and remain a part of me as I continue on in being a mom, a wife and his servant, they were sifted. But He also says to Peter, "but when you return, strengthen your brothers". That is what I want to do .
All that I know now is that I am overwhelmed by the goodness of God to answer my prayers, even though these are the hardest years I have ever walked through. My prayers that I would love Him more than anything else, that I would have an unquenchable thirst for His word, that He would show me His glory. It's not in this miraculous one moment that He just bops me on the head with a God touch in a moment, and ta-da..it's all done. Although He could do that, most often I learn and receive those desires in the Lord through crawling through trenches and seeing things I have never seen before and knowing His love in a way I can not help but be overwhelmingly more in love with Him. To see how powerful His word is, that it works, that it changed me, freed me and how could I not then want more and more and want to share it with anyone I can. That His glory is revealed in His goodness, His faithfulness, His amazing power and intimate love and that I know Him now in a way I have never known Him before. He has and is answering me.
I don't know that my season of desert is over. Oh how I would love to claim it to be so, but God is sovereign and I will trust Him today until tomorrow comes and the next, and then we will all know. We go to California trusting God that He will provide all we need. Man... has He begun to teach Daniel and I how to fight on our knees, how much He has brought us through and I know He is nowhere near finished. That He is helping us have the courage to let go of what we know and find security in and abandon it all for Him, both physically and spiritually. That when He calls us to a life of faith, He intends for us to actually walk in faith. That means trusting when things don't make sense, when things hurt, when you literally have a lamp for your next step and not the spot light I was really hoping for. That His ways are not just good, but perfect.
So much more to learn and grow in, although I have asked the Lord for a vacation from it for a little while, if at all possible. ha. But these ones, these are the moments when He does renew our strength, that He is our strong tower and we can run into Him and we are safe. That we can boast in our weaknesses because then His power is made perfect in us. That we learn what it means to be content in plenty and in want. When the Bible isn't just something we read and agree with and know, but it's our every day living breathing reality.
To be able to say that I am at least willing to stop wandering around holding onto my bitterness and brokenness and realize there has to be more than this, there has to be healing and wholeness and freedom. And God says, yes, that the desert isn't the final destination but to go into promise lands. It takes whole-hearted obedience and full faith. That going places God takes me, facing wounds in order to be healed, trusting God through deep pain...I want Him to take me there, gracing me with more faith all the way out of the desert of unbelief and wounds and disappointment, and into the person He died for me to be.
These are my stone of remembrance of what God has done in this season.
I am so grateful He is always so faithful.
, by Ashley Jackson