Victory on the Vine is a weekly column, published every Friday here at The Well Report Media Ministry Blog. “From Resurrection to Renaissance” is a multi-part series. Below is Part 1 of our “From Resurrection to Renaissance” series.
DYING THE DEATH
“I thought maybe you had moved out of town” someone speculated as I shopped in a local supermarket. The comment was as commonplace as where I was standing. Everyone from ministerial colleagues to lay people to total strangers had inquired. Were the saints now having me for dinner? Had I become the babble of beauty salons? The scuttlebutt of the mechanic shops? These are the places I frequented, these were places I met my inquisitors. The queries were starting to tax me, partly because, after a ten-year odyssey, I still had no answers.
It had never occurred to me to run. Two decades earlier, I arrived in Baltimore with my life’s savings, a stereo, television, clothes, a four-year-old daughter and her toys. I had come full circle, yet only three of those things remained with me.
The Lord had now numbered me among the poor and needy.
Psalms 40:17 says: But I am poor and needy: yet the Lord thinketh upon me: thou art my help and my deliverer; make no tarrying O my God.
It happened at a fruitful time. It was the season that most ministers long to see. A kairos moment. The ministry was starting to gain acclaim. Great victories were taking place in my personal life. It was the best of times. Effectual doors were opening. Like a quarterback, I was dodging adversaries and, armed with the promises of God, I was scoring touchdowns. All was not entirely well; with blessings come much persecution. Still, I was too elated to dwell on my troubles.
Everything changed one humid Saturday night in April. I was ministering at a church Gospel Fest. As the service was coming to a close and the weary were lining up for prayer, I felt something unfamiliar. It was as if I was standing on a fragile limb that was crackling underneath my feet.
I was equipped. After several years of ministry, I had learned how to prepare as if it only depended on me, but to stand only depending on Him. As always, God had truly labored with me during this service; however, as it drew to a close, it seemed as if He was pulling away. In that hour, I didn’t recognize myself, my Co-laborer, or my ministry.
Then the Lord spoke. He told me, as I peered from the pulpit watching the saints gather at the altar, that this would be my last night in ministry. Too bewildered to be disappointed or to search my soul for answers, I seemed to be moving in slow motion as I maneuvered myself through the service. Am I dreaming? I wondered.
I didn’t understand this uncomfortable evening. Still, it was okay; I knew enough not to go ahead of God. I needed Him. I loved Him.
What is this all about? Where am I going? I pondered later on that peculiar night. He didn’t answer.
Several days later, He spoke again. “Let go,” was all He said. Then in a daydream or vision, I saw myself slipping into a grave that had been freshly dug for me. I was tightly clutching the dirt and lush green grass around me. As I am writing this, I realize, the green grass represented the measure of prosperity I was experiencing and the dirt represented my very own flesh. I had never considered myself to be controlling but He was showing me that I was. I was trying to control the outcome of my life and ministry without even realizing it. At His command, I released the fistfuls of dirt and grass and slipped into a place where I thought I would lose spiritual consciousness. I was entering into a season called the Dark Night of the Soul.
Isaiah 50:10-11 says: Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord and stay upon his God. Behold all ye that kindle a fire that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This ye shall have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.
Unlike the wilderness, where your release is determined by your obedience, the Dark Night of the Soul is just the opposite. Your obedience leads you there, and the time of your release can only be determined by God. It is the place of death. Hell on earth, so to speak. It’s the wait beyond the wait. The place where you give and it’s not given unto; you hurt and there is no balm for your pain. Provisions are made for you but you can’t see the hand that provides due to the darkness. There are no doors, no windows, no visitors. No one can speak to you there, but God. No one understands. Your only pastime is trusting him.
I thought it was interesting that in verse 10 of Isaiah 50, the word “stay” is the Hebrew word, Sha’an, which means to support oneself, to lean against. Here’s where it gets deep (smile). It also means to lean upon a spear to commit suicide! As my Co-laborer was determined to kill (crucify) my flesh, I had to lean in to allow Him to do it! By no means was it easy. The process is perpetual while we live on this earth. We must die daily.
Galatians 2:20 says: I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.
Isaiah 54:6-7 says: For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God. For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee.
Not everybody’s calling or preparation is the same. The greater the calling, the greater the suffering. God loved Israel, but now they were being held captive and He had removed His glory from them.
Now, as things were dying in my ministry, things were also falling apart in every aspect of my life. Upon returning home from a trip to Michigan, I discovered my husband of 11 years had left. No discussion. No provision. I wasn’t entirely surprised. The Lord spoke to me twice and revealed it.
Prior to this, my daughter (You remember the four-year-old?) had recently graduated from college and called to inform me that she was moving back home. I wanted her to keep going. Feeling that taking a break before going to graduate school could mean she may never go back, I was upset by her decision. She insisted that she needed a break and wanted to come home.
After the phone call ended with my daughter, I was overwrought. How could she be coming back home? I didn’t want her to experience the toxicity in our home.
She and I had always been extremely close. This would sometimes cause those connected to our lives to envy the bond we had. She had a way of feeling my pain and taking it on as her own. A prophet told me once, when she was a child, to watch what I did in front of her. “She soaks up everything you do like a sponge,” he admonished. The Lord calmly said, “Don’t prevent her from coming back home…. I am sending her back to help you.”
I had no idea what I would be facing in the next few years. My daughter had a reservoir of strength I didn’t know she had, but the Lord knew I needed it.
All He would allow me to do in response to my tribulations was to seek Him and trust Him. The emotional strain and pressure seemed unbearable at times. My body began to shut down. My heart raced; my mind raced. The skin on my face peeled and bled. My stomach burned intensely after every meal. At times I couldn’t turn my neck, I would have to turn my whole body to go in another direction. My hair fell out and the texture changed. As I’m writing this, I’m chuckling as I remember that that was the first time I cried! It seemed like I was more upset about losing my hair than anything else!
My mind was going, it seemed. Every statement I made, I repeated three times. For example, if I was going to the store, I would say, “I’m going to the store. I’m going to the store. I’m going to the store.” It was almost like repeating myself would will my intentions into being.
There were days I couldn’t bathe. It took too much effort. I would only sit in a chair and rock my head from side to side, trying to comfort myself. One morning I got up and tears were leaking out of my face. Am I crying? I wondered. My lips weren’t quivering. I was calmer than I had been in a while but there was this steady stream of tears that lasted all day.
One day my daughter and I were at a McDonald’s drive-thru window. The young girl on the speaker asked that I pull up to the next window. We sat there for a moment discussing our order. The girl, thinking we hadn’t heard her, repeated herself. I screamed at the top of my lungs in a voice I didn’t even recognize, “I AM! I AM I HEARD YOU! LEAVE ME ALONE!!!” I’m losing my mind, I thought. Even the simplest commands were intolerable.
One frigid night in December, my daughter and I were lying in bed watching TV. She would not leave my side. I was lying there cold and despondent. Ordinarily, she and I could laugh for hours on end. Usually I managed to stay pretty upbeat in front of her, but that night I could feel a demonic grip coming over my mind. I heard a cryptic-sounding voice from hell say, “If you strip all your clothes off, run up and down the street and yell at the top of your lungs, and get down on the ground and dig through the ice to the pavement, I will take this pressure off you.”
Almost on cue, my daughter began asking me if I was alright. I told her I would be fine but needed to go downstairs for a while. I walked downstairs unsteadily, without turning on any lights to the family room in the basement. When I hit the bottom step, I collapsed, falling forward. In frustration, I beat my fists on the floor until they were numb. I screamed and sobbed over and over, “WHY, GOD, WHY? I KEPT HIS EVERY SECRET! I STOOD WITH HIM WHEN HE HAD NOTHING! I WAS A FAITHFUL WIFE! I DID WHAT YOU WANTED ME TO DO! WHY? WHY?” I laid there sobbing until I had no more strength. That was the time He had been waiting for. He never answered, but instead, poured a warm liquid in my soul, a heavenly medicine that seemed to give me the strength and desire to get up and worship Him. I courageously walked back up to the bedroom and did something I hadn’t done in months: slept until morning.
Be sure to log on next week as we continue the blog series, “From Resurrection to Renaissance.”