Have you ever heard the saying “You’re either in the middle of a storm, about to go into a storm, or coming out of a storm?” Well-meaning Christians often spout this “truth” to one another in an attempt to empathize during a sister’s or brother’s time of suffering. Trying to connect to someone isolated by his or her own grief, the very body of Christ tries to self-heal using our own words of wisdom and wit. However, good intentions and human-coined phrases pale in the midst of what feels like your personal Category 5 hurricane, with little tornadoes spinning off in every direction and never-ending wind and blinding rain. Cutesy quotes like this one bounce off the big, black cloud that seems to have engulfed a soul that once basked in the sunshine and skipped along in life on top of cotton-like cumulus clouds. This rain-drenched spirit has only one hope in the world, only one refuge that offers protection from despair- the promises of God.
The National Pregnancy Center Conference at Edgewood Baptist in Columbus, GA began with a concert by the Jubalheirs, a praise ministry of the GA Baptist Convention comprised of female music ministry leaders throughout the state. “Be Thou My Vision” was performed beautifully, with words piercing through the dark clouds that surrounded me last Friday night. Having recently encountered crisis after crisis, to say I was feeling “blue” was the understatement of the century in my mind. Although friends and family had surrounded me (perfectly, might I add) in the middle of my original crisis and had continued to offer support and love in the weeks ahead, I still felt personally battered and beaten by our Adversary, the Prince of Darkness, whose primary purpose and ultimate goal is to kill, steal, and destroy humanity. He lost the battle for my soul 6 years ago and chose January of 2017 to work against my joy, my job, my family, and my health. Without sharing too many details, I believe it is sufficient to say that I experienced wave after wave of loss, disappointment, pain, and near defeat. Although people around me affirmed what I knew was true (You are strong, Shirls. You have such a positive outlook.), inside I felt like I was hanging by a single thread- again- the promises of God. I had continued each morning to run to my Refuge, the One who understands, the God who sees and heals. But I was tired of running. I was ready to rest a while. I gladly received the start of that time of rest and recovery by listening to the lyrics of an 8th century hymn that was translated in 1912, set to a tune in 1919, and sung in 2017 by a group of 250+ women who have, I am sure, walked through their fair share of storms.
When I realized the theme for the weekend’s conference, “Remaining Steadfast in the Coming Storm,” I can say with a raw candor that I was not excited. I had heard sermon after sermon about storms, judgment, suffering, battles, and persecution. I thought to myself, Isn’t this supposed to be uplifting? Can’t I just take a break from dealing with all MY stuff and focus on saving babies?? However, after the first powerful punch from Andy Merritt, Senior Pastor at Edgewood and a man living from a place of calling and conviction for over 40 years, I knew I would receive what I needed from God, even though I was unclear about what that provision would be. Over the course of the next day and a half, over 400 attendees heard accounts of babies saved, lives won for the Lord, families changed, pain-producing losses, healing of broken hearts, individuals enduring terminal illnesses, and more, all woven together with the very thread that had been holding me together for weeks, going on months- the promises of God. The underlying message was one I had heard before (in times of personal peace and even prosperity), but the details of the conference met my unique and current needs to create a God-designed healing for my battle wounds. Specifically, we heard from Andy, who has been a frontline soldier in the battle for the unborn since 1981; and Jeremy, who has endured 12 years with a diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease); and Anne, who has cared for numerous women in crisis pregnancies in her home; and Mike, who was handed off to the mailman as a young boy and transparently speaks up for the voiceless from a place of understanding. Scriptural truths containing the pieces (and promises) of the very character of God (He is Judge. He is Peace. He is Protection. He is Mercy. He is the great I Am.) washed over me with storm-penetrating peace, which really does surpass all human understanding. Left void of adequate words to describe the experience, I can only say that I am finally thankful for having gone through the last two months. I also see that the storm continues, so I will strive to remain steadfast.
Heading to Georgia last Friday, I didn’t know the refreshing breeze of the Holy Spirit I would encounter. Frankly, I didn’t know I needed that. All I knew for sure was that I felt “sad” (an uncommon feeling for me) and tired and like I had done all I knew to do. In the middle of my storm, I still could see God’s hand, I felt His presence more than ever, and I experienced His work in my life on a daily basis. However, in His gracious plan, He offered me a respite from the raging storm- a few minutes to stand on the rock of His promises without a forceful gust of wind, to experience His warmth without the feeling of pelting rain, to catch a glimpse of His radiance without the haze of a dark cloud. Fellow storm-weatherer, we can be sure that storms are ever-present in our own lives and in the lives of those around us; we know that the saying is true- all of us are either enduring, entering, or exiting a storm. However, in order to remain steadfast in the storm, let’s always remind one another of the deeper truths presented in scripture- the promises of God.