Through the month of September I was so happy. Moving into my dream home felt like the start of a wonderful new life. And it was wonderful. I was busy and beyond exhausted with all the moving and then the unpacking, but still I was so happy I had to pinch myself most days.
During this time, I was finished my step study for Celebrate Recovery, a 12-step program I had joined for grief support. I was feeling so good that I thought I probably didn't need CR any more, or my sponsor. I figured I'd go to my graduation and then just move on to other things. I guess I marveled a little at my own strength and how well I had weathered the storm over the last year and a half. But underneath it all was the suspicion that coming out of the storm would bring the end of the special closeness I'd shared with God through it all. "Please, God," I prayed, "I don't want to drift away. I'm so ready to be done with my trial, but I don't want to lose the intimacy I've had with you."
But then I got totally caught up in my busyness and the joy of decorating and shopping and making new friends in the neighborhood. And of course, I started to drift. I first knew there was a problem on the day I thought I lost our cat. As I shared in my last entry, losing Arwen stirred up some deep feelings of rejection and loss, and I found myself angry with God. I knew it wasn't only about a cat.
Just as it always does, the fresh pain caught me completely by surprise and totally knocked the wind out of me. Over the next three weeks, I continued to struggle with sorrow and doubts, and it felt like the gulf between me and God was widening by the day even though I continued to cry out to him, especially in the late night hours as I battled insomnia again for the first time in months.
All along, I knew the reason. It was disobedience and pride. There were things I decided to do, little things on the surface that were big things in my heart. Even though I found myself on my knees in my new prayer closet many, many nights, pouring out my heart in wrenching sobs, I couldn't give over my will to Him even though my heart wanted to. Actually, it wasn't my heart that wanted to obey; it was God's Spirit in me. My heart wanted to go my own way because I was hurting and I felt hopeless.
The enemy whispered to me that I haven't changed at all over the past years of trying to serve God, and I agreed with him. I began to struggle with my self worth just like I did before I knew I was God's Beloved. The worst thing of all was being so disappointed in myself, feeling like I was back at square one and had learned absolutely nothing in the last decade or so. I felt so stupid because of past choices that had led me to not one but two divorces, and stupid over current choices now that I ought to know better.
Okay, so by now you must be wondering where the beauty is. I'm coming to that. For one thing, as stupid as I felt, I've learned some very important things through my struggle:
- A house can't make me happy. I'd realized it back in July, that my home is not a house. But for just a little while, I forgot that. And then a little cat stole my joy, and I realized that I was still so broken, even in my beautiful new house.
- Even when I am faithless and so disappointed in myself, God keeps right on loving me. I had some of the best prayer times over the last few weeks. I'd been missing my old prayer closet, but I found that God was here in the new closet too! And that made The New House feel like just home.
- When I am weak, the God who created the heavens and the earth is strong enough to protect me. "...I will keep you safe in the palm of my hand. I spread out the heavens and laid foundations for the earth." (Isaiah 50:16b, Contemporary English Version)
- As long as I keep turning to God, I don't have to fall back into my old negative behaviors and thought patterns. "The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand." (Psalm 37:23-24)
- Above all, I must guard my heart, "for it is the wellspring of life." (Proverbs 4:23) Everything that I am flows from my heart, and if I allow that stream to become polluted the effects will go downstream and affect every area of my life.
- I have not arrived! I still need a lot of healing. But I can feel that God is making something beautiful from my brokenness. It's time to work through my pain and let it go.
Last night was the breaking point for me. I felt terrified, not safe, overwhelmed. I called my Celebrate Recovery sponsor, whom I still very much need, and she gave me some wise counsel which echoed what I'd been hearing from God that afternoon. I took her advice and turned over all of my will to God (step 3). I prayed, and He showed me what I needed to do. So this morning, first thing, I carried out an act of obedience that I believe will bring benefits beyond what I can imagine.
That obedience cost me something, and I felt a little sad today even though I had more peace than I've felt in months. On the way to work, I asked God to please fill the emptiness in me. "Could you please show me a special sign of your love today, give me some manna to help me through my day?"
He first answered through my friend Gentle, who had many encouraging words for me. One thing that I want to remember is her philosophy for home schooling: "Keep calm and expect the unexpected."
I know I have to expect that things aren't going to go the way I think they will, the way I necessarily want them to. But the unexpected can bring treasures I never imagined. Isn't that exciting?!
When I got home from the office and sat down at my lovely purple desk to finish my work day, something entirely unexpected happened. Over the weeks, our little cat has slowly become more affectionate. I usually work from home, and I could see today that she had missed me. She came up and gave the little squeaky meow that I've learned means, "Pet me!" So I reached down to scratch her head and rub her belly for a few seconds. "Okay, Arwen," I said with a sigh. "I've got more work to do. I can't just sit here and pet you."
She meowed again, clearly not satisfied. "Sorry, kitty. I've got to work," I repeated.
After I ignored a couple more pleas, Arwen did something I was told Russian Blues rarely do. She jumped up behind me into my chair and then wrapped herself around me and settled on my lap. My mouth dropped open. "Are you sitting in my lap, kitty-kitty?" I reached down to pet her, but she jumped back down, as if she'd just realized where she was. Less than a minute later, she was back in the chair, back in my lap, back on the floor. And then she did it again, and this time she stayed.
"Okay, you little scamp. You're not going to let me ignore you, are you?" So I gave her a proper scratch, all the while grinning at this unexpected pleasure. Warmth suffused me as I recognized this as an answer to my morning prayer, a little sign of God's love for me. It was like the time he sent me the dolphin, and the time he told the horse to give me a kiss.
For the first time in many weeks, I felt a beautiful intimacy with my Shepherd, and my heart blossomed.
At Celebrate Recovery tonight, we sang a song I've heard dozens of times on the radio without really hearing the words. My heart thrilled to this part:
Hey now, this is my desire:
Consume me like a fire
Cause I just want something beautiful to touch me -
I know that I'm in reach
'Cause I am down on my knees
Waiting for something beautiful. (Need to Breathe, "Something Beautiful")
Yes! That is exactly what I'm waiting for. I don't know what it is, this unexpected thing, but I know that it will be beautiful. I had realized this before, that God has beautiful plans for me, that there's something amazing around the bend, but I guess I'd forgotten it. And that's why I had lost my joy recently.
You know what's my favorite part of this story? That God would use the very cat who caused me to question His love to express His love to me.
That naughty little wonderful cat who climbs on my furniture, stares greedily at the hamster, and tears apart the potted palm that Jackie gave me.
Yes, that cat. Life is sweet.