I’ve just returned from four days in Black Mountain, North Carolina. A group of us went up a day early to set up and prepare for the rest of the group – 69 ladies strong. This was a working retreat, and what I mean is that all the participants really worked some things out with God. This wasn’t just an encouraging time to relax and laugh, although we did that by the boatloads. Our God intended to show up to each of us personally, bring to light areas in our lives that we needed to surrender to Him, really let go of, and then He had marvelous gifts for each of us. Really and truly – He stunned us all.
I am so incredibly blessed and humbled that He allows me to play a part in what He desires to do in the lives around me. I will never deserve the assignments He gives me and I will never be adequate to the task. But then, He doesn’t ask me to be either of these: He asks that I just be a vessel through which He can work as HE chooses, not as I direct. My job is to be as compliant, flexible, attentive and as surrendered as I can possibly be. His Spirit and my ego cannot share the same space, so I must surrender to Him my insecurities, my needs, my desires and truthfully, my embarrassment, because He often asks me to trust Him and do and say things I am not comfortable with doing and saying. I often feel fearful that I’ve heard Him wrong and even as I am doing what I believe He is asking, I’m unsure if I’m messing up. Yet He has taught me when I am in disagreement with what I am feeling led (or pulled or pushed) to do, that is often EXACTLY His signature because in my own self I DON”T want to do it. It is against what I think. But it doesn’t have the mark of the enemy on it, and while I cannot describe what I mean by that, I just know what I mean. When the enemy is pressing on me I begin to feel shut down and that fear causes me to close in on myself, not be open. When the Spirit is pressing outward, I feel opened up and somewhat laid bare – self sacrificed in some embarrassing kinds of ways – but with a sense of “Trust Me” in it. Then He signs His signature every time after the fact so there is no doubt it really was HIM.
But I can talk all day long about God’s processes – they are my favorite, they are where I am most comfortable. It is these people-processes where I am clumsy and awkward. Not in serving people or being available to people, I do a lot of that. I mean receiving love from people. There are so many people who tell me they love me, people I don’t know well, people who haven’t seen me in my “regular” life. But they mean it, I can see that they do. And I haven’t really ever known what to do with that, it was connected to my great divide and it seemed tied to the “doing” part of my life. The “what I do” part of my life has been a one-way-only channel: me serving, giving, and responding to needs in an outward fashion. I could not receive love back through that same channel. So the “who I am” part was reserved for those really close to me and that is a small number in my mind, those where I am most fully and completely “just Tammy”. “Just Tammy” was the part of myself where I reserved my own needs and desires, the part of me that needed to receive love. It was only in that place that I felt safe to open myself to receive love, tenderness, kindness. In my mind, on some deep level, I couldn’t understand how someone could really love me if they didn’t really know me, know the “being” part of me, not just the “doing” part.
This weekend, however, I was surprised by an overwhelming sense of joy and love TOWARDS other women. There is a special group of women who I’ve spent time with over the past few years who I have come to absolutely adore. They are as diverse as you could possibly imagine and like a brightly patterned quilt, they are a great comfort and delight to me. I only see them occasionally and rarely in their “normal” life routines, yet I absolutely adore them. And then there were some women I had never met before who I was completely smitten with. It was not just some emotional high because frankly, I was physically exhausted. I am not a 5-hour-sleep kind of gal and I had three nights in a row of that, plus all the constant activity. It was a God-given love and joy, a sense of knowing, a sense of really SEEING these women. Not just seeing, experiencing them. Yes, that’s it.
Monday morning I received an unexpected message from a young woman I’ve known since she was a little girl, am so proud of and think is just a wonderful delight. We rarely see one another in person for life has taken us different ways, yet I see her on Facebook and I squeeze her enthusiastically if I do see her. She is a bright, beautiful light. She said that the kindness and love I’ve shown her overwhelms her because she still struggled to feel accepted by people for just being herself. And the she added, “Thank you so much for just being you.” This girl is physically so beautiful that she is a model. She lives out loud for God in beautiful and bright ways. And she walks a path few young women walk – a walk that is unique and committed to God and so thoroughly her own. She doesn’t mind being different and thinking out loud differently in the public forum. Ms. O’Hara is a shining star among young women. There was also a message from another young woman, just a few years older than the first who is also a bright and shining light, a woman who has stayed committed to God throughout her youth, her college years and into marriage. She not only walks with God but is a leader helping youth in their walk with God. And she has suffered devastating loss. Yet she puts herself squarely in the path of God’s healing love and grace through every format she can, including these women’s events where younger women often feel awkward.
I am filled with such love for these young ladies that I can barely contain it. Not just love, but this overwhelming joy. I don’t need to know all their weaknesses, personality quirks and areas of struggle to know them. It is the way they wear their soul – it is so beautiful that it is breathtaking! You can see their mind, their heart, their body and their spirit all rolled up in this beautiful soul and you want to shout, “Yes!! This is exactly who God wants you to be!!” I felt this same sense towards some of the other women I was with this weekend, and towards many of the women I am around at my own church. I feel this love and joy towards them, I think, because they are being who they were designed and created to be. God’s fingerprints are all over them. They don’t have to be all polished up or completely formed; they just need to be who they are at this very moment, with a purposeful intention to continue moving forward on God’s path. (See part 2)