A Man of Sorrows, Acquainted with Grief

Note: I originally wrote this piece back in 2010 during a time when health limitations felt a bit discouraging. Perhaps these words will encourage your heart now, as we journey to the cross again this spring.

Ever get weary? Ever need some encouragement? I do.

I’ve never found renewal or encouragement by focusing on hard circumstances, but when I turn my face to Him, He comforts me.

I’m thankful for the verses that tell us Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief; I’m thankful that we have hope beyond this life and these bodies. Take a look at Isaiah 53:2-12.

Sometimes I feel discouraged by the idea that my life’s potential has been diminished by a neurological condition.

God has, over the years, shown me that this thinking is not accurate in His economy. Still it can be discouraging to have fewer opportunities to use the skills and gifts He’s given me.

Sometimes I miss looking healthy and fit, and a wheelchair or walker doesn’t make me look either. In fact, some people make assumptions about someone using such equipment and devalue them or write them off.

I miss doing counseling, writing trainings and workshops, and teaching groups. Last night I grieved some of the losses I face. However, I was so struck by the passage in Isaiah and noticed new things as I read the New Living Translation.

Our values needn’t be shaped by the world, but by the example of our Savior. Early in the chapter we read that there would be nothing beautiful or majestic about the Messiah’s appearance, nothing to attract us to Him. Verse 3 tells us that Jesus was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. Last night this verse comforted me as tears warmed my cheeks.

The next verse reminds us that it was our weaknesses He carried, it was our sorrows that weighed him down.

He suffered horrible abuse— Jesus was beaten and whipped, suffering ultimately for our wholeness and healing. He was pierced for our rebellion, and crushed for our sins. Jesus knew oppression and harsh treatment. Yet he never said a word.

Isaiah 53:8 really struck me because sometimes I feel sad that I will never have my own biological children. It says, “Unjustly condemned, he was led away.” (The footnote shares that in the Greek version it says: He was humiliated and received no justice. Compare Acts 8:33.) No one cared that Jesus died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. (One Greek version reads: Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.)

Isaiah 53:8 wraps up saying, “For he was struck down for the rebellion of my people.” The passage continues to speak to my heart. Imagine the Creator of the Universe, the Son of God, being mocked, crucified and buried as if he were a vile criminal. Imagine Isaiah prophesying these things would happen, and every detail being fulfilled.

When I read verse 10, it spoke profoundly to my heart: “But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.”

Catch that—Jesus will have many descendants…and this is only possible because of Christ’s willingness to suffer and die in order to redeem all of us who would believe on His name and find life for all eternity. Verse 11 says, “When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied…”

By His death and resurrection, it is possible for many of us to be counted righteous, for the Savior would bear all of our sins. Our dirty hearts and lives are washed clean in the blood of the Savior. We are set free!

Beautiful! Instead of a few earthly descendants, Jesus will have thousands of descendants throughout eternity, and who knows what impact our lives can have when yielded fully to the Savior’s loving eternal purposes.

In our suffering, we have the opportunity to be conformed further into the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. As He abides in us, and we abide in Him, eternal mysteries are accomplished. Christ in you, the hope of glory…that’s a mystery that gives life and hope to weary souls.

We will run and not grow weary, walk and not faint as we learn to follow in the example of the Messiah who willingly laid down His life for our redemption. He chose to do the Father’s will and accept the cup of suffering as He allowed those who opposed Him to nail Him to the cross after beating and mocking Him.

His sacrifice and intense suffering paid off in exponentially greater, eternal ways than we could grasp with our finite minds.

Because Christ obeyed the will of the Father, we have the opportunity to be joint-heirs with Him!

Though we may know infirmity and severe suffering in this life, we have a hope and joy that can transcend these limitations and hardships.

I love Hebrews 12:1-2, and will close with these words: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (NASB)

Let’s learn from the example of Jesus, who endured the cross for the joy set before Him. We who are redeemed by His blood are His joy.

Although I won’t ever have biological children, I have known the wonder if seeing others accept Christ as their Savior and LORD, and grow in His grace and truth. Some opportunities to share my faith have arisen precisely because God allowed me to live with multiple sclerosis.

This earthly life goes by quickly. Live it for His glory!

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Feeling Overwhelmed? These ideas might help:

I heard from a friend yesterday who shared that she felt overwhelmed with all that’s going on right now. I think this is common. In terms of major stressors, most of us have a fairly significant list right now. Here are a few thoughts on things you can do which might help:

Be kind to yourself and others.

Recognize that some people are grieving significant losses.

Honor the grieving process and don’t invalidate the emotions others feel, or which you are experiencing.

Be curious. Look into the truth and go beyond the surface. Don’t assume.

Some people feel very concerned about what’s going on politically, morally, and in many other ways right now in the world. Validate those concerns.

Take an interest in learning the truth–go beyond the narratives that the world is pushing so hard.

Many voices clamor for your attention. Listen for God’s still small voice. Ask Him for wisdom and discernment.

Disengage from the news, social media and instead connect with loved ones face to face. If that’s not possible because of the pandemic or life circumstances, find ways to connect which are life-giving to you.

Journal. Pray. Re-create.

Spend time in solitude and nature. Today fog hangs in the air outside. I’m going to take a shower and then go for a drive with my camera. Fog creates some beautiful scenes in the countryside all around us. Barns and trees hold a mysterious beauty as the mist shrouds some of the landscape.

I’ll listen to some worship music and God’s Word.

I’ll allow Him to infuse my spirit with His hope, His transcendent peace, His joy.

The joy of the LORD is my strength.

the verboten TV

Long ago, I remember sitting with my Swiss Grandma Tillie in their farmhouse up on the hill. The sound of her clock ticking on the fireplace mantel marked the seconds audibly. Her long silver hair always looked tidy under the net that kept it styled neatly above her shoulders. That evening, she asked me to turn on the verboten TV (I pulled the button out as remotes weren’t how she operated that black and white screen), and after a few minutes of world news, Grandma made a face and said, ‘That’s ugly! Turn that thing off!”

She and Grandpa and Aunt Velma didn’t usually watch TV. Grandma had a little electric organ she played hymns on. We would gather around and sing off key. Happy memories with my family. Now that Grandpa had passed away, her organ and the TV were still considered worldly, but she kept them around anyway. She understood God’s grace, and she wasn’t bound by all of those legalistic ideas. But unless you turned on that TV, it simply collected dust. She preferred it that way. The violence and chaos of the world beyond their hillside farm didn’t often reach her eyes and ears.

Unlike most people nowadays, Grandma hadn’t grown desensitized to the images and noise of this world. She simply couldn’t endure watching much news. I feel that way about social media and some of our news nowadays. I seldom turn on our TV. I can read enough articles to stay abreast of things well enough to pray. My husband informs me of major things in his good natured way, inserting humor to lighten the mood as needed. Life’s too short to spend all of our time captivated by images and words on a screen. I’d rather look into the eyes of someone I love, and plant succulents, and spend time with lambs in the spring. I love to go for a drive and look at the fall colors with my Sweetie.

If Grandma Tillie were alive today and saw all that’s going on in our state and world, she wouldn’t be spending much time with the news on. She’d read her Bible. She liked to grow African violets. She’d visit over a cup of tea with her large extended family and neighbors. She liked to ask us to weigh on her old scales when we came in the sliding glass door. She probably missed her calling as a nurse. Grandma never learned to drive a car. She had Mr. Kuenzi drive her around in their huge old light green Chevy Impala (with a white hard top and 400 engine) until he died. Then she’d get rides from family or have us pick up groceries for her in Silverton. She would rather can green beans and serve up some vanilla wafers with pudding. She’d lift the lid of her cookie jar and offer us an oatmeal cookie (often a little hard), and visit about something positive, like the new baby a cousin just added to the family. Somehow she kept track of our hundreds of cousins and delighted in their news, sharing this joy with a twinkle in her grey blue eyes.

Grandma understood that what we focus on influences our outlook and quality of life. Granted, we need to understand what’s going on and do what we can, and certainly pray. We are called to pray continuously. But, we live in a fallen world, and our hope just isn’t here. In Christ, we have a hope that transcends all of the things going on. One day, this upcoming election won’t be so crucial. Fires won’t fill the sky with dark clouds of smoke and ashes. None of the social chaos and pandemic will be able to disturb us. Not when we see Jesus face to face. The things of earth really will grow strangely dim as the hymn says. Our citizenship is in heaven, and we’re passing through this life as we hopefully grow to be more like our Beloved Savior, by His grace. Left to our own devices we’d be such a mess.

Even if you feel like a mess, take heart. God is in the transformation business…from ashes, He brings beauty. From filthy rags, emerges a garment white as snow because of His sacrificial gift of eternal life and forgiveness. We have reason for joy and peace despite this very messy world we live in. As Abbott Marmion wrote, “Joy is the echo of Christ’s life in us.” Now that’s beautiful.

a minty evening, memories, wild turkeys and a flock of ewes

This evening I went for a ‘roll’ over to JW Ranch and enjoyed a visit with the ewes. On the way, I saw a family of wild turkeys with ‘a gaggle’ of young turkeys roaming around the pasture with them. (Do you call a group of them ‘a gaggle’ like geese?) The ewes came up to snuggle a bit, poking their faces through the fence to say hello. I went out to the gravel road along the fence line where I’d mended fences earlier this year. Many happy memories of time with Ramsy the bummer lamb, and other times in the pasture this spring flooded my mind and heart.


How I love living in this farming community. The mint fields were just harvested and the smell of peppermint still floods my senses as I roll on by. I pray that our lives will be a fragrant offering unto the LORD. When we live for ourselves, with selfish intentions, it smells more like the manure from the nearby small dairy farm. But the peppermint fields really remind me of the minty fresh cup of tea I often enjoy on fall mornings. I can feel fall in the air now, as summer draws to a close and soon kids head back to school. Or in this case, during a pandemic, kids pull up a chair next to a laptop to begin the school year. May God draw hearts closer to Himself during this time in history. May we find joy in His Presence, and abide in His peace and joy despite the turmoil in the world around us. Just as the sheep enjoy grazing on the pasture or eating the bale of hay together near the fence line, may we enjoy what God places in front of us, finding nourishment and strength as we encounter His loving Presence in these memorable times.

Trapped

Today my husband and I awoke at the Oregon Gardens, and after a delicious breakfast at the lodge, we went for a roll/walk (I roll, he walks) around the gardens. We saw a doe and two fawns, hummingbirds, and other wildlife. We saw the rising sun cast soft filtered light upon the gardens, and I recalled how it all began in the Garden. Coming here is like going home for me, and time in the Oregon Gardens is so renewing. Since our family farm is just up the road, the woods and the hills feel familiar, like the land we farmed as a family in my youth. In fact, I can see part of our farm from these gardens, off in the distance. That part of the farm, on Hibbard Rd, has been farmed by the Kuenzi family for 102 years now.  The land is part of us. After Jerry and I went into Silverton to buy him a hat, we had some lunch and a nap. Much needed rest felt so good to both of us. COVID has been a stressful season of time, and life in our small town has held both joys and trials.  In the afternoon, I drove over the my Mom and Arie’s to pick up a prescription I really needed which my friend had kindly gotten for me today. I didn’t feel up to driving downtown Salem to get it, so I had run out and her kindness meant a lot. I told her sometimes I feel trapped in this body, and pain and limitations can make daily life hard and wear me down emotionally.

A few weeks ago, I fell in our garden, spraining several limbs and my wrist and knee, gashing my leg on the cinder blocks, and reminding me that indeed the secondary progressive stage of multiple sclerosis can be quite discouraging. My legs give out randomly and the treatment for MS no longer is effective. The nature of the progression is such that the deterioration is not in the brain and spinal cord so much as it is in individual nerves. So simple tasks like swallowing my food or vitamins can result in heaving. I’ll do speech therapy for that problem, but again there’s not a lot that can be done. Medically speaking, I’m told just to adapt our lives to the power wheelchair, so ramps and home modifications have occupied our days in recent weeks. I started PT and an OT came to the house to help me figure out adaptations that need to be made as soon as possible. The health crisis that has been steadily approaching for the past nine months is here, and likely here to stay. The OT told me it is important the my environment support me. I am extremely grateful for long time friends and new friends who have helped out with doing dishes and cleaning or organizing while we work out better ways to get things done at home. Jerry continues working at home during COVID. He couldn’t get time off to run me to the doctor the day I fell, so a friend from high school kindly offered. Every genuine need that arises is met by a loving God who sees me. He knows. He understands. I can’t balance well enough most of the time to do all of the house work.  This is hard for my husband and me both. We do the best we can.

I think about that phrase, “when your environment supports you, life will get easier.” To be honest, lately I’ve noticed the things around us that not only don’t support us, but at times attack me and kick me when I’m down.  I don’t have the energy for drama in our neighborhood and I will not be engaging with any of that from here on, either virtually or in person. We will build a fence and set appropriate boundaries emotionally and physically because healthy boundaries matter.

We managed to stay neutral for two years for the most part, but we moved into a neighborhood with some lovely people who also had long standing strife between them. The police get called, and people tell us about their conflicts, and we have simply responded that we are praying to be able to love our neighbors, to remain neutral. When we left for this little vacation, however, my heart was grieved. Not only did our neutrality vanish when someone chose to verbally attack me and say horrible things (which were not true) in front of children that I love, but I will never again trust the people who chose to treat us in this way. I will forgive them because Christ forgave me, but that does not mean I will ever be required to trust them unless they earn that trust. In fact, I have chosen to forgive them already. I stood in the Secret Gardens, with my power chair a few feet away, and watched the stream flow under the little bridge. Like it says in Job, we can recall our troubles as waters gone by. I choose to forgive. Not because it was okay to treat us this way, but because we have a living and true God who loves us. He forgives us and forgives those who condemn us and speak lies about us to others. God’s Word says that He restores unto us the years the locust has eaten. I feel lately as though a swarm of locusts just ravaged our fields and home.

Home hasn’t felt comfortable recently. It’s rough living each day in a body that is not only struggling but declining in terms of  health, mobility and balance. Strife among people around us and anger directed and us didn’t feel good. But over and over God spoke these words to my heart:  The battle belongs to the LORD. There’s a verse that says, “Do not go into the fields of the fatherless for their Redeemer is so very strong.” I don’t need to defend myself against lies and mistreatment. I have a Savior who was betrayed, and misunderstood. He knows what it is to be falsely accused.  Yet Jesus humbled Himself, even to the point of allowing those angry mobs to crucify Him. He went to the cross for me and for my neighbors, and for each person we love or struggle to relate to. He desires that none would perish. John 3:16 talks about how  He extends His love to all of us. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so whoever believes on Him would not perish but have eternal life.” My identity has nothing to do with the false things someone said about me two days ago in front of children that I care about. My identity is found in the love and acceptance of Jesus Christ, who gave His life for me and for those same people who feel justified in treating me this way.  God knows the truth. I need not defend myself to anyone. One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is LORD.  I will bow my knees now in gratitude and humility. We all need a Redeemer.

Forgiving others doesn’t mean that we will trust them necessarily. We can allow them to earn our trust, and that may never happen. That’s okay. We know the truth and we rest in the Way. the Truth and the Life.  Colossians 3 says to set our minds on the things above. Paul goes on to say that we rest in our identity and position in Christ. The things of earth grow strangely dim when we are able to do this.

I am loving time with my husband in this beautiful place. He is sleeping peacefully now. This morning a doe and her two fawns walked very close to us, at peace and accustomed to human beings coexisting with them in the gardens. When we moved to Jefferson, we hoped that we would feel that way, safe and accepted in our community. (Sometimes living there has felt a bit like the wild west. When we first moved in, the SWAT team was in the neighborhood several times. A suicide devastated a family. We heard other stories that brought us to our knees in prayer. We grew to love many in this rural community.  We’ve made some beautiful friends, and I am very grateful.)

Recently, that feeling of peace and comfort was disrupted in a big way. But we know that in Christ, we can abide in Him and be at peace, no matter what is going on around us. In Revelation, it says that “they overcame the accuser of the brethren by the Word of their testimony and the blood of the Lamb.” The enemy of our souls seeks to steal, kill and destroy. Whether I am bleeding from crashing into a mailbox, or bruised and battered after another bad fall due to MS, I know that some people will respond with great compassion and mercy. Others will not. That will hurt. It’s okay, though.  I am called to keep my eyes on Jesus and to recognize that only then can I live at peace among people who wound others by their words and actions. Wounded people wound people. It’s an age old problem, ever since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. I will not be relating to anyone in our neighborhood via social media or going out without my phone in the future. For one thing, when I fall I need to call for help. Jerry came out and scooped me up when I fell in our garden a few weeks ago. His arms felt so good around me. Some other loving friends have been helping us adapt our home and make everything more wheelchair accessible. I remember how Corrie ten Boom spoke comforting words to her sister Betsy (before Betsy  died in the concentration camps where they experienced the most brutal abuse imaginable and inhumanity from other humans). Corrie comforted Betsy with these words: “Underneath are the Everlasting Arms.”

When I fall, whether people nearby criticize or speak to me with accusations, or whether they pick me up and hold me close like my husband did, I can be at peace. Because although I do need my environment to support me more, God is at work. The ramps are getting built and we have a few more to set up. I will get a different kind of walker that we hope will prevent at least most of the falls. The bruises and sprains will heal. The gashes from the cinder blocks and also the rusty mailbox near my flowerbed are healing. So is my wounded heart. I have released those who hurt me most by forgiving them. I will fix my eyes on Jesus and abide in His love. I am planting succulents and dreaming of a service dog who can help me with mobility and getting up when I fall. A dog’s unconditional love can be so healing. I am blessed by friends around the globe who truly love me and support us in this hard time.

For momentary light afflictions are producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.  Paul’s words resonate with my heart in a deep way tonight .  The eyes of the LORD search to and fro throughout the inhabited earth to strongly support those whose hearts are fully His. Really, Paul experienced shipwrecks and assaults both physically and emotionally. He counted all things loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus our LORD. He considered those things he lost as rubbish in contrast to the wonder and beauty of knowing the Redeemer. I think about people around me who are afraid to attend church or really explore who Jesus is because of the way some who profess to know Him have treated them. Granted, human relationships can get complex, and in this fallen world, conflicts arise. But that’s a tragedy. My prayer is that those who call upon the name of the LORD will live in ways that honor Him and that we will be ready to give account for the hope that is within us. Romans 8 says that we have been set free into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We are adopted, loved, treasured, and nothing can separate us from His love. I cannot fall from grace or lose His unconditional love. Nor can I do anything that would separate me from His lavish grace and precious love. So if I bleed a bit, or get bruised and beaten up emotionally, I can count it joy as I encounter these trials. To suffer for His name is not a disgrace but an honor. I am His and His banner over me is LOVE. Underneath are the everlasting arms, and soon I will rest next to my husband, peacefully sleeping in His lovingkindness and Hesed. His steadfast covenant love holds me close when I am hurting. No matter how I am treated in this life by other people, I am fully loved, fully accepted and fully forgiven. His banner over me is LOVE. As far as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness towards those who fear (revere, worship) Him. I am so thankful God gave Jerry and I these four days in to walk (or roll along in a power chair) in the Garden with our Creator.

May you rest fully in His love, be at peace and strengthened by the joy of the LORD, which does not depend on circumstances. I am my Beloved and He is mine. His banner over me is love.  Sometimes I feel trapped by my body as MS progresses. I get tired of falls and pain, limitations and the harsh realities that come with this. A few days ago I felt so weary of living among human beings who aren’t always kind to one another. I felt claustrophobic and so eager to get away from a culdesac where struggles wearied my soul. I am stuck living in this body which isn’t easy.  In a few days, we will return home and resume life together, trusting God’s grace to be sufficient. We can trust that His power will be made perfect in our weakness.  Though being away is wonderful, I am no longer dreading returning home. I will keep my eyes on Jesus and we’ll be okay. Life with MS and other health issues we face together will never be easy. We’ve been dealt a very tough deck of cards between us. We are so blessed to have friends and family who love us and help us. I still look forward to eternity where no more tears and no more suffering will exist. In His Presence is fulness of joy. And, I can enter into His Presence as I worship and explore the beauty of these gardens with my husband.  I am free in Christ. Now to go and lay down beside the one in whom my soul delights and join him in peaceful slumber.

fences and lambs

Last evening my husband and I were returning from the store, and one of the lambs was outside of the fence. So we went back home, and I grabbed my boots and a rope and went to see if I could get the lamb back inside the pasture. I borrowed a kid on the way since I can’t run any more, and the kids father and another brother followed us out to the field. This is just a few minutes from our neighborhood. These aren’t my sheep, mind you, but the owner is an older fellow who is having some health problems.

When I arrived at the pasture, the lamb was already back inside the fence and a huge gaping hole in the rusty old poorly maintained fence made it obvious where he had escaped. I thought about how vital boundaries are in our marriages, for our health, and in so many ways. Many of us live in marriages where the fences are not always well-maintained. That can look like so many different things. Emotional neglect, love anorexia was a terms I think someone used, lack of intimacy, anger issues, the list goes on. In our marriage, sometimes we go too long without spending quality time together. Now and then, I think it was less lonely being single.  I can do something about this by finding ways to connect with my husband.  However just as the farmer needs to maintain his fences, marriage takes work. The sheep don’t get out so often when the when the fences are maintained properly.

As I was fixing the fence last night with some rope, bungee cord and leather, I thought about what kinds of things our marriage needs right now. Some of the things that reassure and comfort my husband include having a clean kitchen, keeping up with housework, and having order in the house. Sometimes these things are hard to achieve for me because of my health as multiple sclerosis progresses. But I felt like it was a gentle reminder last evening to me that our marriage will benefit from finding creative solutions to the challenges we face. I don’t know for sure what the future holds, and I can only do my part. But I do know that God speaks to me as one of His beloved lambs, and His word strengthens and encourages me. I’m reminded to look to the shepherd for all of my needs. One version of Psalm 23 says, the Lord is my shepherd. I have everything I need. In Christ, I don’t have to look at the things that are lacking in my life and be discouraged, I can look to Him for fulfillment and unconditional love. May He bless you today.

health CARE

Today I saw my neurologist. She was wonderful, her caring evident as she tried to adjust my mask so my glasses wouldn’t fog up. We talked about recent months, and it felt more like having tea with a friend than a doctor’s visit. But we still accomplished the necessary business at hand–my ongoing care as I live with the challenges of multiple sclerosis. She feels the progression is now secondary progressive and has been for awhile. That means that the nature of the deterioration is no longer due to lesions in the brain and spinal cord as much as it is damage to the axons and dendrites in nerves. As a result, the MS medication I’m on may not be very effective. Really, there isn’t a lot that can be done about it at this point…that is, in human terms. God can sustain me day by day just as He always has. She prescribed a ramp for the front door, so we can use our flex spending account if needed as we improve accessibility for my power chair in this home. She wrote a note saying a mobility service dog would be beneficial so I can get on some lists for a future dog to join my team. We compared notes about hot flashes that disturb our sleep and she told me that she uses a fan clipped to her headboard. We laughed together, empathized, and talked about dogs and husbands, and the common ground we share in this season of our lives. I left with a smile as she said I had brightened her day. She made my day pretty great as well. God, thank You for a caring neurologist and such sweet moments in the midst of this journey with MS. Thank you for Kathy, who so kindly drove me to the appointment and then stopped for produce at some great stores in Corvallis afterwards. Her fellowship blessed me. Life in this pandemic is made sweeter by time with her and others. Vicky biked over with her two adorable children and some donuts for Jerry and me. I sent her home with violas and yellow and purple flowers will grace her yard as a result.

Trapped and desperate, God’s tender whisper

Last evening I was really tired and not feeling the best, so I was afraid I’d fall asleep too early. I told Jerry I was going out for a little while, maybe to my friend’s She Shed to pray. ( I usually use my walker and get a little exercise or take the wheel chair for a spin, but I felt a nudge to take my van.) I asked God about going to the She Shed to think and pray, but instead I felt led to go to the sheep pasture despite the foreboding dark clouds and a few sprinkles. When I got there, I heard the urgent cries of a ewe and her lamb who lingered nearby, looking  very distressed. The ewe had stuck her head through the wire fence near the big metal gate, and she couldn’t get out. She might have been there for hours already. She was on her front knees, and she looked like she could barely sustain this position any longer. A big pile of sheep pellets (manure) sat immediately behind her, indicating maybe she’d been there way too long. Stuck. Panicky.

Knowing I could try to free her myself, I called DeDe who lives on the property to see if she could alert the owner. I could try to set her free, but didn’t want to injure her in the process. Dede and her son came out to try to help. I went through the gate to the other side of the fence after talking to her in soothing tones. As soon as I got directly in front of the ewe’s face (standing back a few feet), she panicked and bolted backwards. She was able to free herself with this sudden motion. I hoped she wasn’t wounded in the process. After watching her run to the flock with her relieved lamb right behind her, I gave thanks that the Holy Spirit had prompted me to come this evening. This ewe had already grown exhausted by the time I arrived and might have died if no one had discovered her predicament. Although she didn’t know it, she had the power to break free, but didn’t realize this until I stood in front of her and her adrenaline kicked in, allowing her to bolt straight back and rejoin the herd with a huge sigh of relief. As I unlatched the gate to let myself out of the corral, I heard Him whisper to me, “I am going to use your life to help set other women free, too.” I didn’t slip my feet out of my boots, but I felt as though I stood on holy ground in that moment.

I thought back on our conversation around the picnic table at Lake Charles earlier in the day. After two hours of quiet time with our Bibles, journals, and our beloved Savior, we usually gather and share from our hearts, and then pray for each woman after she tells us how God used this time. I shared with those women what I’d been through this past winter, and other women shared that they too had felt despair and trapped at times in their lives. We gave thanks that God has healed me emotionally and continues to bring freedom. They prayed that God would redeem my dark winter in powerful ways as I write about it. We prayed that the church will learn to talk about mental health and also abusive situations in healthy, constructive ways. The other women shared their stories, and God’s Spirit moved powerfully among us as we sat under the oaks of righteousness at Lake Charles.  Isaiah 61 kept coming to my mind. He sets the captives free, and brings beauty for ashes. After I shared, a lovely older woman shared her situation and we prayed for her. She decried the lack of equipping in the church to deal with abusive situations and mental health. She mentioned that her pastor’s wife committed suicide. This didn’t have to happen. Why didn’t the body of Christ recognize this woman’s pain and help? The stigma around mental health and also domestic violence has to end. I know that God allowed me to go through this tough time in my life so that He can use my story and new found empathy to help others who feel desperate and trapped, like this ewe.  After leaving the sheep pasture,  I stopped by the She Shed to record a video about how God spoke to my heart today before heading home to Sweetie. I pray that God will give me the courage to write about my experiences with honesty and power as He anoints my word for His redemptive purposes.