Moving Forward in Spiritual Story: Life Journey no. 11

You know, it’s like God is painting a picture with our life. He starts with a blank canvas and sketches the form lightly on its surface. Area by area, overlay and detail, incident and happenings, he is making the picture come alive according to the image he has in mind. We are his masterpiece, unique, creative, and beautiful.

Child” said the Lion, “I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own,” -C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy.

Spiritual Story is Life Journey

ON THE SPIRITUAL SIDE, you are either growing closer in your relationship with God or you are drifting further away. One does not stay stagnant, on a plateau, or blasé about it. We can be adrift, lost at sea, or we can be anchored, secure in God–even when asking the hard questions. There is always the hill to climb as with anything in life.  I’ve called this set ‘Life Journey’ thus stressing the commonalities that unite us as a Christian people.

For awhile I’ve considered sharing some of the spiritual markers you may encounter. By using my own life, I can show what they look like for the purpose of assisting in their understanding. What slowed me was the thought that you might find this boring or overworked. I’m going to attempt the thing and hope it encourages you to keep moving forward.

A timeline shows movement in my spirit-side from start to finish. Life-altering events and decisions have a red asterisk* beside them. It might be fun for you to mark off the ones that are relative to your own spiritual life. This is not an exhaustive list, but I hope it creates an awareness of one or more areas to ponder and maybe even a tension to discover some new movement in your life.

God works in each life differently. He continues to take us to a place of ‘further still.’ Some days the path is darkly shaded and we stumble along. The going is slow but we believe by faith that God is accomplishing something. Other days it opens wide in the sunlit lands and spiritual life is simply joyous. Whatever is experienced is all about developing a personal walk of faith and trust in God.

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Spiritual Timeline for My Life

Childhood

*Age 7 – Salvation — I prayed to be saved at age 7.

My mother read to us when we were little. Sometimes it was a bible story, other times it was a true life story of faith. At the time, there was turmoil in the world with the Bay of Pigs invasion and then the Cuban Missile Crisis. We’d been talking about it and then the conversation turned to accepting Christ as our Savior. That night that was different. I remember it well and that my brother also prayed. We knelt by the side of the bed with mother. We prayed for Jesus to be our savior.  Mother later told me that I had been asking a lot of spiritual questions prior to our time of prayer.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” Acts 16:31

*Age 7 – Baptism and Communion — I was baptized at the Independent Church of the Brethren, a church that my ancestors helped build.

My family attended a church with the old traditions. Women wore handmade net hair coverings and wore little or no makeup and no jewelry. Dress was modest. Now that I was a Christian I would be baptized. I remember it well. A couple of other people and I met with the pastor and talked about baptism. On Sunday I stepped into the baptistry and knelt in the warm water. Then I was dunked forward into the water two times–but it was supposed to be three, one for each of the three persons in the Trinity. “I baptize you in the name of the Father; in the name of the Son; and  in the name of the Holy Ghost.” This was an act of obedience showing I’d placed my faith in Christ as my Savior.

Now I was allowed to participate in the Lord’s Supper, a rather lengthy service. The women had prepared a simple meal of bread, broth and meat, which we ate at long tables with white cloth coverings, a communal meal of the brethren. A shared cup of the vine was passed around the table.  Then the flat buttery-tasting communion bread prepared by one of the women was passed around the table.  Foot washing was next (women with women, men with men)  and then a closing time of preaching and hymn singing. At the conclusion of the service, we knelt at our pews and recited together the Lord’s Prayer. Even as a child, I knew it was an honor to participate.

“When he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘Take eat, this is my body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes.” -1 Cor. 11:25-26

Youth

Age 1-18 – Christian Living.  In the church and in my family I was taught the Word of God.

My grandparents and my parents were people who lived their faith. My grandmothers and mother taught us the ways of the faith and encouraged scripture memorization and Christian service. Christianity was integral to our way of life and in family activities. We moved to northern California and joined a GARBC baptist church. Everyone in my family was re-baptized in order to join the local baptist church. This time we were immersed in the water one time backwards. The coming out of the water symbolized the resurrection of Christ. We lived a Christian life style that emphasized its separateness from the world. This emphasis set us apart from the world in many ways such as morally, spiritually, socially, and behaviorally. The youth group was a huge support group for me in my teen years. I attended public school.

-“The word of the Lord was to them, ‘Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little,” –Isaiah 28:13

*Age 16 –  Dedication. I dedicated myself to God and committed my life to following him.

This one was not of my doing, but of God’s. It came out of no-where. I was at church camp after my sophomore year in high school. One afternoon I began to feel a pull in my heart. My heart was heavy, and I felt emotional. I went off by myself. It seemed as if God was drawing me to him and asking me to follow him. I sat on the edge of the plywood decking supporting the tent, close to a ravine. Tears began flowing. I cried with sadness for those I knew who weren’t devoted to God. I feared for them, and I desired to follow God. A friend came and asked me what was wrong. Nothing was wrong but my life had altered. That experience is when I began to love and follow God with my heart and soul, which has never changed in all the years since.

-“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge him and he shall direct your paths.” -Proverbs 3:4,5

*Age 18-22 – Christian College. I was a student of God’s Word and received instruction in the Scriptures.

Graduating from high school was like a launching off point. My sisters were at a bible college, and I chose to join them. I attended a small baptist college linked with the Association of Regular Baptists. There I gained a rich understanding of the Old Testament, New Testament, bible doctrines, Isaiah, Christian theology, and Christian living in addition to my liberal arts major. I applied myself to Christian service in various musical and outreach ministries. I began to appreciate the Word of God in new ways and began a practice of daily devotions and prayer. My years at college were a time of enjoyment, growth and maturity. Lifetime friendships were developed. This was a sweet time in my life.

“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15

Age 19 – Desire for God. I sought encouragement and comfort from the Bible and God.

The bible took on a new perspective my freshman year in college. It went from academic knowledge to a personal salve to meet a need. Like comfort food, I needed spiritual comfort food. There is nothing quite like a broken heart to take you to the throne of God. That year I experienced my first heartbreak and took it hard. He was cool, a ‘catch,’ and I was surprised. I never thought a cute guy would like me. I fell hard. Silly me! After it crashed and burned, I was miserable and could barely eat. This caused me to look for comfort. I found it in reading the bible and through prayer. As a result, a thirst in me was born for God’s words of comfort and cheer. My favorite books that met my need were Psalms and Philippians. Psalm 27 especially ministered to me. God met me where I was at and with enough strength to carry me through. The words in the Bible became alive and real.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? -Psalm 27:1

Adulthood

Age 25 – Marriage. I desired a Christian marriage and the establishing of a godly relationship.

During dating I determined to only go out with Christian young men and to not sleep with them, ever. I kept myself pure for marriage, believing when two become one it is integral to the sanctity of their marriage. The parameters worked for me and were biblically based. I believed in marriage as a permanent, holy commitment between two Christian people. My purpose in my marriage was to establish a Christian home and to be a faithful, kind, and supportive mate to my husband. The marriage wasn’t the stuff of fairy tales, but I kept my vows and we raised our children in ways of Christian faith, and I learned what it is to self-sacrifice.

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Matthew 19:5

Age 27  – Parenthood. I planned to parent my children by teaching, guiding, and living the truth before them.

Five children blessed my home. I loved my children and loved being their mother. I went at this much as I did everything else. Parenting my children was an intentional matter. I wanted to raise them in the Lord and with compassion and care. I wanted to teach them to be responsible and prepared for life.  I also wanted to protect them from the pull of the world and its ungodliness. I was careful with what they viewed and the ways in which they acted. I knew I was responsible for their upbringing. It was a great delight and an awesome challenge. I formulated a plan for how I would treat them and the values I wanted to instill in them. Parenting was harder than I thought it would be, but it was rewarding and wonderful. Parents are always teaching by example. I blogged about parenting here.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

Age 28 – 46 – Perseverance. I sought strength, forbearance and greater faith.

Life became complicated and difficult between my mate and me, but we didn’t let it show that much. But there were episodes that proved to be bigger than myself. I absorbed the hard things because I was committed to the marriage. Then I lost my sister. I was devastated. Because of the hard times, I kept turning to God for help and I prayed for his intervention. I became attached to God, for in him I found ways to address the issues of every day. My life was not easy, but it was lived with God at the center. I learned to turn lemons into lemonade and to keep my dignity and integrity. There were times when all I could do was cling to God and ask him to help me. This is how I learned to trust in God.

“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you our potter; and all we are the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8

*Age 46 – 50 – Transformation. In my brokenness and despair I pursued God, inner healing and restoration.

A few cycles of pain and trouble began to bend me in an uncomfortable way. Eventually I became bare and broken, naked and undone before God. My reserves were depleted. I couldn’t do it anymore. Choices needed to be made to the better good or I would lose my grip (and sanity). Bitterness and resentment whispered at me to come their way. That was repugnant to me.

What could I do? I gave up doing what I had been doing. Instead, I laid it all on the altar and asked God to change me. I asked him to make me into the person he wanted me to be. I gave up me in order to embrace him. Truly, it was a crucifixion moment. God took it to heart. Item by item the old Norma began to change. God was becoming my all in all. I sought to know God. He gave me love in return. In the process God gave me healing of my emotions and acceptance and understanding. God put into me much of what would change me into a radiant, renewed, and free person.

-“But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

*Age 46 – Vow. I vowed a promise to God to use what I learned to help others.

A decision of the mind came when I gave up doing it my way. I figured I might as well make it worth the trouble by using everything for God’s glory and kingdom. I promised him that I would share whatever he wanted to teach me. I meant it. This made my messy journey worth it and was the beginning of something bigger than myself. My writing and speaking is because of this vow. It is amazing what God will give us when we stand there with open arms and say we’re willing to receive it. This chases the sourness away. Every year is another opportunity with its unexpected challenges. With every challenge comes a lesson I learn, apply, and then share as I let my light shine. These lessons do not come easy and often involve loss, but God is faithful. He is shaping me.

“Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:1

*Age 46 – Ask, Seek, and Knock. I sought intimacy with God through prayer, meditation, contemplation, and silence

Something new sparked in me. The more I pursued God, the more I found him. I didn’t realize until much later that I had accessed an entirely new level of Christ-following in my spiritual life. The greatest joy was the growing intimacy of relationship with the God-head. By spending a lot of time seeking God and asking him to show me the truth of the Word, and him, I was transforming, and I was finding God to be infinitely loving. God became exceedingly real to me. In this, he caused me to become tenderly sensitive to the Spirit and to have a greater awareness of the spiritual world. I asked God to give me wisdom, and I believe he has. When I am alone with God in the solitude, I know the joy of Presence. This is complete joy.

-“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

*Age 54 – Unity in Christ. I desire true Christian fellowship and to know it when I see it.

Sometime along this journey I became aware that I had it backwards in regard to how I practiced my beliefs. I realized a freeing concept. “Being” is most important, and “doing” springs out of being. Because of being, we can let go of the rigid boxes.  Friendships become more of a connecting than a doing. People who understand this have a close intimacy with God more than any other thing. They don’t function in religious idolatry, for Christ is their leader and guide, not their religious structures. I see Christianity through a different lens than I used to. It’s not about me, others, church affiliations, or anything else. It’s about God, and then our faithfulness to him. One of these friends opened a door for me into greater community with Christians of other faith traditions. I can fellowship with other faith groups that have Christ at the center. This was radical for me and took a long process of God slowly weaning me away from my rigid perceptions and overcoming my strong resistance to the idea.

“Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.” Ephesians 5:23

*Age 57 – Calling. I live out my calling.

For most of my life I was immune to the call on my life. I thought a “calling” was more or less for those in Christian service, like pastors and missionaries. In reality, all Christians are in Christian service. Six years ago a series of circumstances caused me to consider this area of Christianity. Before that I’d never thought much about having a call. I had lived life as it came and prayed about the issues and choices I faced. I began considering if I had a calling and what that meant for my future endeavors. I read books and talked with others who had made life-changing decisions. I asked them how they knew something was of God.

I was restless, unsettled, wondering. I could see where my past life journey had specifically prepared me to share my message with the world. Ten years before I had thought my message was about the healing of emotional hurt, and I had wanted to start a ministry for women. But I was stopped in my tracks by a custody battle. That door never opened. My calling? I realized my message is about asking, seeking, knocking, finding, and knowing God in the intimacy of relationship. Healing is a subset of that, and my message is for both genders, not just women. I made the decision to retire from teaching five years ago to write and speak the message I’ve been given, what I believe is my calling, even though it wasn’t financially beneficial. God has taken care of me.

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

Age 58 – Indifferent. I am learning to count the cost.

Some of our monastic brothers and sisters strive to be “indifferent” to those things in their lives that distract them from their call to follow God in practice and in purpose. What “indifferent” means is to not allow attachments and preferences to interfere with their response to God’s work in their lives or to prevent them from doing what God would have them to do. For example, “I couldn’t do that!” God comes first over all other, even family. Being indifferent is a hard concept, but it is also a freeing thing. This may be extremely difficult when it comes to relationships, material possessions, occupations, and just about anything.

I am only now beginning to understand this practice, “forsaking all others,” although I’ve known about it for five years. When someone dear to me said I should stop writing, I knew I couldn’t do that because I must be faithful to God in what he has commissioned me to do. When it came to some other “dear” areas in my life, I had to let them go because I am to be true to God and walk in a way worthy of him. Being indifferent is like a litmus test. I have a long ways to go in this area, but to walk free, I must. It is a separation in the view of self and its purpose. The bumpy road ahead will provide many opportunities to be “indifferent.” Praise God for whatever he is going to do.

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A closing note

My friends,

I know this was a long blog. I didn’t think it would be wise to break it up into chunks. If you skimmed it, I wouldn’t blame you!

Please pray for me. I truly need it. Thank you for your interest in Life Journey.

God bless you,

Norma

P. S. The picture is a painting my mother painted. I liked it so much that she gave it to me.

 

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