“See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.”
Since I was baptised in 2016 I have learned to talk to God in a variety of ways and settings. Through prayer at Church, journaling or just talking to Him during my everyday activities, be that that walking in nature or sat at my desk working. Hearing God’s voice in return has come when least expected. Now I do not ‘hear’ a voice, I’m talking about either the sudden or gradual ‘knowing’ of a thing that comes from a place deep within. That place of rest and peace we seek when we close our eyes to pray or meditate.
What I am writing about today is how a testing circumstance and a song of worship first led me to an encounter with the presence of God. Encounters that change me every time I am blessed with the deep truth of His love for each one of us.
The first few months after my baptism though transformative were relatively comfortable. I had left my job, put my possessions in storage and set off hiking the mountainous regions of the UK. When I felt sure that Kent was put in my heart as a destination, I thought, okay, let’s do this. I know people there; it’ll be a good place to stay whilst I figure out where God really wants me to be!
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails”. Proverbs 19:21.
So I needed a place to stay. I spoke to a few friends and they put me in touch with a lady who wanted to make some extra money renting out a room in her house. She seemed nice enough, but very quickly I realised my friends had ideas about me being a support to her. No problem I thought, with two children she might just need a hand here and there, perhaps I’ll help make her life a little easier.
I stayed a few days before I set off cycling across Europe. The lady was lovely as could be and so welcoming. She would tell me all about her good intentions and plans for the place. Her two young boys were gorgeous, but she spoke negatively about the littlest one. Again, me being headstrong I thought, that’s all good I can handle it.
I was full of enthusiasm, and within a few days had decorated the bedroom, stripped wallpaper, cleaned up, and cooked meals for us. I did my best thinking it was being helpful. There were still some jobs to do which she promised to have done by the time I was back in a month.
By the time I had reached my destination in Rome, I had lost my bankcards, some cash and my passport. Somehow within that final week abroad my finances seemed to deplete far more than I was expecting.
As soon as I got back, I started work with an agency I had pre-registered with. But without communication I was left alone with her dogs for a few days not knowing where she was. In the time I had been away, nothing new had been done, except that I had a new double bed. As soon as I sat on the bed it fell apart! I thought Ok, now I’m sure she’s gone away to hide from me. The tools left at the bedside could do nothing to fix this bed together, so I managed to rotate and wedge it into an alcove which worked a treat! Problem solved. But when she did get back all she could do was apologise and apologise and keep on apologising! I kept saying its ok, it’s sorted now, don’t worry. But she kept on insisting that she would buy a new bed.
A week later this new bed frame arrives, so we assemble it together. Then the wardrobe she got fell apart, police were called because of arguments with her neighbours, and her screaming at the children became a daily occurrence. It just seemed like one bad thing followed another. I continued with my plan of support, doing jobs around the house when I got home. But nothing was changing. In fact, my helping was making things worse. There I was, in her house, getting things done, and I bonded well with her children.
But the story she presented to my friends was one of great hardship – apparently the children were a nightmare to manage, she told them I had been demanding a new bed and had even made her life a misery about it! All her woes were because of someone else.
I was quizzed daily by my friends how things were, and it all just felt dysfunctional. I told how I was concerned about the children so I was called judgemental, told I wasn’t a mother, so couldn’t possibly know how hard it was. I felt isolated, and I didn’t have the finances to pay a deposit and one month rent in advance in order to live anywhere else.
My thinking had gone from ‘maybe I can be a light, maybe I can show by my doing what is possible, maybe this will encourage her to be positive, maybe she’ll just be swept up in a tide of possibility,’ to ‘get me out of this nightmare!’
So it was a Tuesday in October and in the darkness I drove to my usual dog walking spot. I put on my headtorch and we set off on a familiar route through woodlands. But I was not happy, I felt desperate for my circumstances to change, but did not see how this would happen. Through my headphones I played Hillsong’s ‘I will pursue’ on repeat.
I sang those words out loud, alone and in the darkness. From the depths of my heart over and over I sang ‘Jesus I surrender, I’m desperate for Your presence, longing to be with you.’ And I really meant every word. It was like a chant with a deep desire for His presence, ‘all my trust is in you Lord, lead me to you.’
I carried on lost in those words for about 45 minutes until I came out into a clearing. I cannot tell you where my dog was, he had been running about enjoying himself. But all of a sudden, I stopped – I didn’t see anyone around me but I felt this presence descend and as soon as I sensed it without thought I lowered my head and closed my eyes. I didn’t want to open my eyes to question anything I felt – instead I let go and embraced the moment. I surrendered into a deep sense of being surrounded. In an embrace that was Love – like falling into the arms of that person with whom you feel most safe. And I sobbed.
When I stopped, the sense disappeared in a kind of lifting and I opened my eyes in the darkness to see nothing.
Now I don’t remember getting back to the car and setting off, but I stopped on the way back at a large supermarket. I remember at that moment thinking somehow everything was different.
I remember walking into the store, it was late so there were just a few people shopping, and I was just overwhelmed by the sensation of love. I remember looking at people and thinking, ‘WOW’ I wonder if they know just how much they are loved? I was seeing people through a different lens.
That is what stays with me. The overwhelming sense of love, belonging, and acceptance of everyone, of all people. How much we are truly loved by God – when you get a sense of it, when that realisation falls on your heart, you cannot help but have your eyes fill with tears.
Henri Nouwen said, “if you believe deeply that God loves you intimately and personally – you will be able to see how much other people are loved”. I understand this.
The peace of that encounter filled my heart for the next few days. Then unexpectedly that week on the Friday, I opened my payslip, and would you believe it, but I had received a sizeable tax rebate. Enough to get out and move into a new place, which I did that weekend.
Glory to God! Though this was just the beginning of my trials!
What did I learn from this? We are loved more than we realise. Trust the Lord in all circumstances, pray and seek Him continually. It is not I who changes people, but God. My job is to love people the best way I know how, but also to know when it is right to walk away. People do not see things the same way. Gossip hurts. True friends are many things, but they do not set you up to fail. Real change does not happen when you are comfortable.
God of Love, thank You for Your presence and power which transforms our lives. Let our eyes be open to the truth of Your provident care for us all. Teach us to trust in You and to realise we are not what we do, but the sum of who we are in You. We thank You Jesus for Your cross. Let us live everyday longing for Your presence and in obedience to Your word. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.