Chapter OneNOWHERE TO RUN,
NOWHERE TO HIDE
I scanned the small sanctuary, planning my escape route. I knew my
stomach couldn't hang on much longer. Earlier that morning I had
called my fiancé, Steve, explaining that I had the flu and didn't think
it wise for me to go with him to the church considering him for the
position of pastor. I rationalized that it was unlikely they would vote him
in, considering they had already turned down thirteen other potential
pastors, but the bottom line was that I felt sicker than a dog. But Steve,
nervous about the whole process, had begged over the phone, "Oh, honey,
please. You are my fiancée. They need to meet you. After all, you might
become their pastor's wife." So I complied against my better judgment.
Trust me, we both regretted that decision!
I now found myself feeling nauseated, trapped in a morning worship
service and nervously searching for a way out. When Steve began praying
the pastoral prayer, I saw my chance to escape. Checking to be sure that
every head was bowed and every eye closed, I clutched my stomach and
headed for the nearest exit. But I never made it out of that small country
church. Eyes popped and mouths dropped as I lost my breakfast all over
the front of the sanctuary. The only eyes closed were those of my future
husband, who kept right on praying.
Humiliated and embarrassed, I wanted to crawl away and hide.
Amazingly, that congregation voted us in unanimously. To this day, Steve
calls it a "pity vote."
CHASING THE WIND
A few months later, Steve and I moved into the parsonage next to the
church. As a young pastor's wife, I told myself I had to "run faster, jump
higher, and try harder." These messages were not new; they had been
a part of my life since childhood. I had grown up trying to keep others
happy; now I had an entire congregation to keep happy.
Determined to do things right, I set my heart to learn all I could
about being a dedicated wife and ministry partner. I read every book
I could find on parenting techniques and creating a godly home. As
opportunities came to teach the Word of God, I studied all the popular
books on communicating with poise and passion. Later, as new positions
brought bigger challenges, I devoured books on honing leadership skills.
Yet perpetual, internal striving left me feeling stressed out, exhausted, and
trapped. Nothing I did seemed to lessen the tension and anxiety I felt.
I spent my energy trying to do all the things I thought I was supposed
to do in order to please God, when in reality I was exhausting myself
trying to please others. Though to many I appeared confident and poised,
underneath the surface of that well-maintained composure lay some
fragile roots, roots that could be easily upturned if life ever felt out of
control and chaotic.
Ten years ago, the storm winds of chaos blew into my life, shaking me to the
core and forcing me to take an honest look at myself and my relationship
with God. I stood by helplessly as one dream after another disintegrated.
Several serious issues rocked my world. My teenage daughter struggled
with an eating disorder, and in the process of trying to help her, I realized
I had the greater problem. The guilt I felt shattered any illusions I had
once entertained of being a good mother. As I entered counseling to
deal with my eating issues, God unlocked the doors of childhood trauma,
forcing me to come face-to-face with the phantom roots of my fear.
As if my life were not filled with enough stress, a routine mammogram
revealed that I had breast cancer, and I went through a complete double
mastectomy. The year following the initial surgery, my time was spent
going to doctor's appointments and undergoing several reconstructive
surgeries. I had very little energy and spiraled into discouragement. All
the dreams I had once entertained of changing the world dissolved in
puddles of tears on my couch.
During that year, God called Steve and me to a new and larger ministry
clear across the country. Everything in me panicked. Now, Lord? I'm not
ready! I can't step into a bigger ministry now! But one month after my final
surgery, we uprooted our family and kissed security good-bye. We left
behind on the East Coast two college-age children and dear friends from
the church we'd served for eleven years and moved to California with our
two younger daughters to what we perceived to be our dream job.
However, that dream exploded as well. I watched in shock and
disbelief as my husband endured continual attacks of criticism. Watching
him suffer at the hands of very powerful people felt worse than any of
the trauma I had already experienced. Broken and longing for a sense of
renewal, Steve resigned. Shortly after his resignation, a routine ultrasound
indicated a strong likelihood that I had ovarian cancer, and once again I
was scheduled for surgery.
Toward the beginning of all these crises, I felt as though God had
abandoned me. He certainly wasn't behaving like the God I had always
served. I felt as if everything I had staked my faith on was now up for
grabs. Then as the chaos increased, I became more desperate than ever to
understand this God whom I said I wanted to serve. Not knowing where
else to turn, I cried out to Him in complete and utter desperation, "God, I
don't understand Your ways. I thought I knew You, but You have stripped
my world bare. I beg You, Lord, show me who You really are. How can I
serve You if I'm not even sure I trust You anymore?"
Soon after that prayer, I came across the following passage in Jeremiah:
But blessed is the woman who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.
She will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
She will not fear when heat comes;
her leaves are always green.
She has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit. (17:7-8, author's paraphrase)
Oh, how I wanted to be like this person! Unlike me, she didn't appear
frazzled, anxious, or uptight. She remained steady and unshaken,
regardless of what came her way. She had no worries. I had plenty. I did
not lack spiritual passion or zeal, but despite my best efforts, I felt more
like a weeping willow than a sturdy oak tree.
Convinced that some of the answers I was seeking lay in this passage,
I determined to study it more. As I studied, God began to show me why
it was difficult for me to trust Him. For many years, I had served God out
of fear. But in my fear, I had missed the deeper joy of knowing Him.
In all my striving, I had missed the most important phrase in
Jeremiah's description: "whose confidence is in him." This person was
calm in the midst of chaos because she willingly placed her trust in God
and His character rather than in herself or her circumstances. She was
deeply rooted in God, not because she knew about His character or was
driven to perform for Him but because she had learned to experience and
enjoy Him as her safe shelter. What she knew in her head had somehow
made it down into the crevices of her heart. As a result, her confidence
in Him had given her everything I longed for-the courage to face
challenges, the confidence to feel secure, and the centering peace that all
is well. Now the question I faced became How? How could I move my
head knowledge of God down into the depths of my quaking heart?
I determined to bury myself in the heart of Jesus. For four years
straight I read and reread the Gospels, seeking to know Him better.
As I studied Jesus' life, His "I am" statements drew me like a magnet.
I discovered that every "I am" statement correlates with a significant
emotional need. As I began to understand who Jesus was and what He
promised through His "I am" statements, I also began to trust Him with
a confidence that could not be shaken. As I learned to draw from His
character and nestle down in His presence, anxiety was replaced with
calmness, panic with confidence, and insecurity with assurance.
While I still don't have this down perfectly, I am learning to retreat
into His presence moment by moment. I can now follow in the footsteps
of Moses and say,
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, "He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust." (Psalm 91:1-2)
Courage, confidence, and centering peace ultimately come from
steadfast trust in God's holy character and awesome abilities. They are
rooted in a belief that has taken up residency in our hearts, the seat of our
emotions. When we put our trust in God, we realize that we cannot do it
Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,
but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me.
God never fails, never changes, never grows weary, and never quits.
When we trust in His character and abilities, we can rest because He is
ever-present and everything we need. Change doesn't seem as daunting.
Difficulties don't seem so monumental. Disappointments hurt but don't
diffuse all hope. Instead, the woman who knows God intimately is able to
face life's chaos with assurance, security, strength, and hope because her
tranquility flows out of the glorious character of Almighty God.
The book you now hold in your hands is the result of my study and
of my hours spent in His presence. As you read about Jesus and study His
"I am" statements -
"I am . he"
"I am the bread of life"
"I am the light of the world"
"I am the good shepherd"
"I am the resurrection and the life"
"I am the way"
"I am . the truth"
"I am the vine"
"I am the Alpha and the Omega" -
I pray that you will find yourself drawn into God's presence and that
you will come to know Him more intimately.
WHERE DO YOU HIDE?
Wherever you are with God at this moment, it's possible to go deeper.
Is He the One you turn to when life leaves you wounded, torn apart,
and stripped? Perhaps you've become disillusioned with Him and now
wonder if you ever really knew Him. It is even possible that He is the One
you are blaming for your chaos. Maybe your world is rocking at this very
moment; maybe the winds of chaos are blowing. Where are you planning
The Almighty God who created you understands you perfectly. He
wants you to know Him, not just casually but intimately. Will you lay
aside any preconceived notions you might have about Him and join me as
an inquisitive child, seeking only to know the truth about His character?
If you put His promises to the test, I dare say that you won't be
disappointed. If you run to Him who is your safe shelter, you will discover
the unshakable peace and security found there.