Sunday, January 30, 2011

Filled with God's Bounty

Remember, Seek, Surrender
My Testimony in Scripture

2005

"For the Lord will ransom Jacob and redeem her from the hand of those stronger than she.
She will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion;
she will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord - the grain, the new wine and the oil,
the young of the flocks and the herds.
She will be like a well-watered garden and she will sorrow no more.
Then maidens will dance and be glad, young men and old men as well
I will turn her mourning into gladness;
I will give her comfort and joy instead of sorrow.
I will satisfy the priests with abundance, and my people will be filled with my bounty," declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 31:11-14

I was never really supposed to be a Jamie.  Mom had planned to name me Natalie, in fact, or even Mercedes, and I would have been more than happy to have been a "Nattie" or a "Mercy" (but not a "Sadie"). Honestly, I've always hated the name Jamie.  I mean, if I'm going to have a boy's name, it should be a good, strong boy's name, one that makes you perform a satisfactory double-take when you find that it is, in fact, a girl.  And if I'm going to have a girl's name it should be decidedly feminine and suitably inspirational.  My sisters all have beautiful, princess-like names, names that the heroine of any book would be proud to announce.  But the best that I can hope for is to be called James, which is one of my favorite nicknames.

In this year of my recovery I began to meet with a small prayer group once a week.  Two beautiful women organized it and the three of us were the most regular attenders that year.  One such Tuesday it was just the three of us when the pastor of the church for which we prayed came to join in.  After we laid hands on him and interceded for his calling, his family, his church, and the community, he did something that no one else had ever quite done before.  He got up and stood over us and prayed a priestly blessing on us.  I remember it distinctly not just because no one else had ever done that but because of what he said:

"I pray that each of these women would receive the eldest son's portion."

In a culture far removed from that of biblical times, this might seem an odd prayer.  But to three women who had experienced some of the more difficult circumstances of life, it was as if he offered a spring of water to thirsty souls.  One of us was a widow raising a teen-aged son on her own.  The other, I believe, was divorced and a survivor of abuse.  I was recently separated, living in a garage apartment while my husband's mistress lived in our home.  I would say that we each knew something salient about the frailties of being women, widows and orphans, feeling like "the least of these" and having little power to change it.  I am the youngest daughter of a youngest daughter, and my identification with the sparrow is not accidental; I had about as much power and significance in the world as a common, muddy bird sold for a penny to be sacrificed on an altar somewhere.

It was that same week that I discovered the meaning of the name Jamie.  It is the feminine form of Jacob and it means "supplanter."  In that moment it dawned on me that my name was not an accident.  The pastor's prayer was for me, Jacob, the youngest daughter of a youngest daughter who would receive the eldest son's portion.  Thus, it was particularly beautiful to be given this passage from Jeremiah where God seemed to whisper my own name...

For God will ransom Jacob...

That is why you will find the rest of the pronouns to be her in the section quoted above.  God is not actually speaking to a man in this passage, but to a people, and in this case, He was also making a promise to his daughter, Jacob, to me.

It is challenging to articulate all the beautiful facets of this passage, its promise and its fulfillment in my life that year.  God had already called me out of the darkness of betrayal, depression, and suicide.  We had already made a covenant of life, He and I, and in my healing He had given me the image of a garden...

You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain.

Song of Solomon 4:12

Up until that point, I had been a garden without walls, trampled, used, discarded.  But my God wanted me for His own.  He rebuilt the walls and closed the gates and He and I stood together to assess the damage.  (It wasn't a pretty picture.  The fountain was dry and so was the ground; any flowers were dead.  The place was overrun with weeds and garbage and vines grew over stones marked with graffiti.  I had not known how to take ownership of this land that God had given me and it had been destroyed without the one God had created to take care of it.  Even the beautiful Tree of Life at its center was dead.  Just Jesus and I remained.)  He taught me how to take an inventory, taught me how to take the lies I had learned about myself to Him for truth.  He taught me how to steward anger and loss with forgiveness and grief.  He taught me how to tend the walls, to discern good from evil, by saying yes to love and light and life and no to the bad, to abuse, to lies and destruction.

That is where, at the close of 2004, God called me out of the sick relationship in which I lived.  Three days in December I fasted and prayed and three days the message was clear: I was clinging to a dead thing that could only make me sick and kill me in the end.  My only hope was deliverance and to invite my husband to deliverance, too.  But if he would not come out from his slavery then my call was to serve my God and not death.

Even so, what I had learned about the Bible, about marriage and divorce tied my hands.  So I confessed to God that I could not do what He asked.  I told Him that He would have to do it.

So He did.  Without a word spoken or any plan made, one Saturday morning in January - this week of January, in fact, 6 years ago - God prepared a place and then sent people to my home to gather all of my belongings and move me out.

She will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion...

I did shout for joy.  For though it was a sad day, waking up the next morning to a place free from darkness and deception, from depravity and abuse, was like waking to the sound of angels' singing in happy tones of blissful peace.

She will be like a well-watered garden...

The part that makes me most happy about this particular promise is the end of this passage - it is not just for me, it is for all of God's people.  In fact, the story of my deliverance is the story of my calling, to be ready to share the hope that I have, the relationship with a God who delivers, and to offer it to all who seek.  My testimony of mourning and gladness, of comfort and joy and sorrow, it is my anointing; it is the abundance from which I might serve others, that all of God's people might be filled with God's bounty.

That year I learned to receive.  And that year, the year of my 'widowhood,' I was loved beyond anything I have known before or since.  In the time of my greatest desolation I was cherished beyond all measure as God fought for me, provided for me, surrounded me with His people, and led me to this place in Kansas City where my greatest delights were made into classes and the secret meadow where I met with God in prayer was a real place called the Sanctuary of Hope.

It is hard to capture a year in words, let alone in one post online.  I could tell you about how God called me His rose and littered the path to KC with petals.  I could tell you about the crossing of Jordan and the 12 stones I collected along the way.  I could write more about the sweet, gentle way God calls me to minister one step at a time, one moment at a time.  But these are yet again stories for yet another post.  What I see as I look back on this promise from six years ago is the fact that it is still being fulfilled today.  It is a vision for my ministry as I seek to disciple and be discipled, my offering to God.

I close with this lovely irony.  As I write I realize that the anniversary of my widowhood, March 16th, is the day that God took me on a surprise trip to Israel.  It is also the day that I will leave for Rome. Just 45 more days!

"My people will be filled with my bounty," declares the Lord.

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