Before I developed a close relationship with God, I went through some very dark times. In an amazing and beautiful irony, it was those dark times that really led me to God. Just as Paul tells us in Romans 8:28, God truly does work in all things for the good of those who love him.
As I shared in a previous post, I felt God calling me, loving me, when I was at my lowest--newly divorced and all alone in a Chicago hotel room. At that moment, hope was born, but it was a long road back to God. When I got back home, I ended up attending two weekend counseling sessions in a program called The Road Adventure. It was an intensive group therapy approach that helped me let go of many hurts.
While I was there, a girl walked up to me on a break and said, "Hi, I'm Christi!" She started asking me questions about myself and was apparently determined to befriend me. You know how little kids walk up to each other in the park (or the post office) and say, "Wanna play?" It was kind of like that. I was a little put off because at that point I felt incapable of forming friendships, but at the same time, I liked it. I wondered what she saw in me.
After a particularly grueling day in the second weekend session, Christi invited me to go eat Krispy Kreme donuts with some friends of hers. It was late, and I was exhausted, but I never turn down Krispy Kremes! I said, "Why not?"
That's when Christi introduced me to Jenny, a beautiful, gentle girl who put me completely at ease. They told me about the Thursday Group, which they called an accountability group. They said they had lost a member when she moved to New York, and they felt that I was supposed to be part of their group. I really had no idea what this accountability group was all about, but again I said, "Why not?"
I was so nervous that first Thursday when I drove up in front of Jenny's house. What was I thinking?? I didn't know these people. What if they were weird? What if they didn't like me?
Inside, Jenny and Christi greeted me with warm hugs, and everyone else seemed friendly enough. We sat on Jenny's back porch and ate snacks while Marie and Tisa shared what was going on in their hearts. I hoped they wouldn't ask what was going on in my heart because I really had no idea.
Something Marie shared really moved me, and I suddenly found myself crying with her and telling her I understood her pain. Just like that, I was IN. These were "heart friends" even though I'd just met them.
We continued to meet every other Thursday night for a few years, maybe four. We'd sit on Jenny's comfy couch and pour out our hearts to each other, often while we ate Jenny's amazing banana bars. It wasn't a Bible study, though we talked about the Bible. It wasn't a prayer meeting, though we always prayed for each other. It was just a place to figure out what was going on in your heart so you could work through it together.
There were only two rules: 1) everything shared was absolutely confidential, and 2) when someone was talking, everyone else had to remain completely silent. We couldn't even say, "Oh, I know what you mean," or "Oh how awful/wonderful." That was hard to get used to, both as a listener and as a speaker. But I think I have become a much better listener because of it.
At first, these ladies were heart friends, but they weren't hang-around-and-have-fun friends. I guess I held them aloof for awhile, if that makes sense. I didn't want my hanging-around friends to know so much about what was going on in my heart. Over time, though, these ladies become very dear friends in every way.
Every year or so, we'd have a retreat over the weekend. We might go out of town, or we might stay in a local hotel, or we might stay at someone's house. There were no kids, no significant others, and nothing to do but talk and eat and sing and laugh and cry. These were some of my favorite times of refreshing.
Sometimes, we had marathon cooking days. We'd meet in Jenny's kitchen and make massive amounts of food for our freezers. It didn't feel like hard work when we could share the tasks and chatter endlessly. The best part was coming home with literally 20 meals (or more!).
You know how sometimes you have a great friend, but your spouses or your children don't get along? Well, it wasn't like that for us. All of our spouses and all of our children had so much fun together. We spent many weekends at the lake, wearing ourselves out on waterskis and wakeboards and an evil giant banana that skimmed a foot above the water. We ate and talked and stayed up half the night playing games.
Everyone was welcome, so over the years I brought my sisters and nieces and my Little Sister Brandy. One of the best moments was praying for my niece, Mindy, to learn to water ski and then watching her get right up on her skis just as the prayer left my lips!
So Much More
The Thursday group didn't just break down the walls I'd built against friendship. It was much more than that. Through meeting with these women who all went to different types of churches and had different religious backgrounds, I learned to connect with God in wonderful new ways. They always talked about spending quiet time with God, and about journaling. This was a new concept for me: to just spend time enjoying God's presence and listening for his voice. I decided to try it, and this was how I gradually started a relationship with Jesus.
Then there were the amazing revelations that Jenny would share. God spoke to her in scripture, in dreams, or simply in her thoughts. A few years ago, Jenny compiled all the words from God that she'd recorded in her journal into one book, titled Keep Listening. ("Keep listening" was the very first thing she heard God tell her.) Reading her book kindled a fire in my heart, and I longed to hear from God that way. So I asked him. And He did speak to me. I suppose He was always speaking to me, but now I was listening. The cool thing was that he didn't speak to me in the ways he spoke to Jenny, which was what I asked, but he spoke in different ways that were perfectly suited to me.
All of my adult life, I had struggled with crippling insecurities and relentless anxiety. When Jenny suggested that I start memorizing scripture, I had no idea that God was about to start delivering me from these struggles. Jenny bought me a set of small blank cards with a tiny wallet to store them in. She explained the process: you focused on one passage at a time, one verse at a time. The verse you were currently learning went in the clear plastic front of the wallet so that it was easily accessible. There was a section for the verses you'd already learned and the ones you were about to learn. You NEVER tried to memorize more than one verse at a time, but you kept reviewing the ones you'd already learned.
I really didn't think I could memorize scripture, and I didn't even think God was going to reveal the passages he wanted me to learn. But when I asked Him what I should memorize, he answered. For nearly all of my eight memory passages, I received one or more clear confirmations that I was to memorize them. The confirmation might come through a friend's words, or a sermon, or a church bulletin, or a book, or even through a stranger.
I was surprised and delighted at how much I enjoyed meditating on scripture. In fact, I usually didn't have to try to memorize anything. I just studied each verse over and over until it sank into my heart and imprinted itself on my mind. Twice a day at work, I'd sit on a couch during my break and study my passages. The stress of the day would just melt away as I contemplated God's word. It was a slow process. It took me over a year to memorize Psalm 139, but by the end of that time, it was mine.
Why am I such a fanatic about scripture memory? Because I want you to try it, if you haven't already! Because it has literally changed my life. Over the last seven years or so, I've learned:
- that I am a virtuous woman, a treasured wife, a mother who speaks with wisdom (Proverbs 31)
- that God planned all of my days before I was even born, that he knows me and loves me exactly as I am, that he lovingly knit me together in my mother's womb (Psalm 139)
- that in all things--even my mistakes, even my sins--God works for my good, and nothing can separate me from the love of Christ (Romans 8)
- that I mustn't worry about anything, but instead pray about everything, so that the peace of God will guard my heart and my mind (Philippians 4)
- that God has given me a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair--for I am a mighty oak, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor! (Isaiah 61)
- that I can remain in Jesus' love by obeying his commands--just one command, actually: to love others as He has loved me (John 15)
- that God has redeemed me, summoned me by name; that I am precious and honored in His sight; that I am to forget the former things because he is doing a new thing in me--it springs up even now! (Isaiah 43)
- that I don't have to worry about what my family will eat or drink during this recession; if God takes care of the birds of the air, how much more will he care for us? (Matthew 6)
This should not surprise me. The Bible says the Word is living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). In fact, the Word is Jesus! John 1 says "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Of course, it's faith in Christ and not our works that bring salvation, but hiding God's Word in our hearts gives us power and authority (and wisdom and comfort and peace) as believers.
So once more, I challenge you: ask God what passage he wants you to learn, and see if He doesn't change your life. If you already memorize scriptures, encourage others in your life to try it. Please let me know if you decide to memorize scriptures; I'd love to know the effect on your life.
Back to the Thursday Group
So whatever became of this wonderful Thursday Group? We stopped our regular meetings when Jenny and Clint moved to Honduras about four years ago. Though we only see each other once or twice a year now, we are still heart friends. When we need each other, we communicate by email. Recently, we've talked about resuming our meetings, though we won't be able to lounge on Jenny's couch any more. I really hope we do start meeting again. I need someone to ask me, "What's going on in your heart these days?" I need someone to tell me, "Sarah, that's total crap. The Bible says...."
In any case, my relationship with these amazing women has enriched my life and deepened my faith. I pray that Ethan and Allyson--and you--will find friends like these.