In January, 2000 Erik and I moved to Arizona with a 3-year-old and a newborn baby. Erik had just graduated from Tech and took a job with Hicks & Ragland as a site acquisition agent. When the offer came in, we did not hesitate. It was more money than the two of us combined had made over the course of our few years together and it was an exciting new start. Oh to be young and fearless again!
I found it ironic that we moved into the literal desert of Arizona around the same time I found myself in the first spiritual desert of my life. I was eager to grow and go deeper with God, but it was a struggle. I could not hear Him at all. Was He speaking to me or acknowledging my desire for Him? It sure didn’t seem like it.
Looking back, the biggest problem was that I constantly compared myself to other Christians who appeared to have everything together. I would literally ask God to make me more like “this person” or “that person” and I was continually disappointed that my walk was so much different than theirs. What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I changing? I was still getting frustrated with my kids. I was not serving Erik as I thought I should. I was grouchy and depressed.
And I was a pill. I’ve always been a pill, a stinker, a little “toot” as my Papa called me. I think I expected God’s mighty hand to come down and magically make me a different person, a better person.
I have what some might call a biting wit, a sarcastic flair, a hyper tongue reflex meaning I might shoot off at the mouth in a pithy, hilarious way that rubs people the wrong way. I can sense the reaction when I’ve gone too far. And for the first 40 years of my life it scared me. I hated that about myself. I always felt the need to ask, “Do I repel you? Will you forgive me?”
As much as I wanted to be gentle and sweet, God just wasn’t accommodating me and I was beyond frustrated. No matter how much I tried to be “that person” God wasn’t having it.
What wisdom comes in the desert. What revelation comes when you are hot and thirsty. Or under your ironing board crying and begging God to do something that He is apparently refusing to do.
Yes, under the ironing board. Erik was away for several days, money was tight, Lexi was colicky and my mother was 12 hours away. The ironing board…..oh dear me!
But I would not trade those two years for anything. Once again, hugely ironic that if I could go back to one period in my life for one day it would be this dry, desperate time in Arizona. I would nurse and hug those babies again. We would stay longer at the park. We would swim longer and laugh harder. I would take 100 pictures every single day. And I would write down every funny thing they did or said. I would worry less about the baby weight I couldn’t lose and spend more time praying for their hearts and their futures. And hugs…..lots and lots of hugs.
For a 26-year-old in the throes of a wrestling match with God and extreme post-partum depression, I believe my kids and I did okay. I determined to make sure that they knew how much I loved them and that they felt nurtured and cared for. I would allow myself to fall apart during naptime or after bedtime. Other than the incident with the ironing board, I think we did alright.
The desert is a real place, and I still live there most days. We physically moved out of Arizona many years ago, but wherever I go the desert is there. The Israelites wandered the desert for forty years – am I meant to do the same?
I have the answer to that.
Sometimes maybe the promised land is in the desert – but it’s made into something beautiful. Despite the dryness, there is Living Water to be found. Despite the suffocating heat, there is rest in the evening when the cool breeze blows. I’m no longer trying to get out of the desert. Instead I’m looking for the times of refreshing God has for me along the journey. And they are everywhere.
When I named this blog “Deserts like Eden” I had no idea where God would take my imagination or what He would uncover in my heart. I liked the name because it came out of Isaiah from one of my favorite Bible verses. But I only partially related the premise to my life and the walk I’ve had with God.
Not so today. I am no longer looking and hoping to be rescued. Jesus already did that 2,000 years ago when He died on the cross for me and gave me every spiritual blessing. I’m no longer asking God to make me a different person, I’m inviting Him and allowing Him to sculpt and sanctify the person he created me to be. Instead of telling Jennie to put a lid on it, I’m letting her write and tell her story. (And apparently I'm letting her speak in third person, which is a pet peeve of hers!)
Despite some embarrassing facts about myself and the vulnerability in sharing my heart for the world to see, I really just want to share the hope I’ve discovered in the desert.
And friend, there is hope in the desert! No matter how thirsty you feel or how desolate or how confused – God is right there with you. Whether you feel it or not. And He is doing a work in you - perfecting you in a way that only the desert will allow. If there is any advice to offer, I would say press in even when you don't want to. Lift up your hands in praise even when your arms carry the weight of the world. A few minutes in forced worship might result in an hour of humble, invigorating prayer where the weight is lifted and you enter the promised land of trust and fellowship with Him. The effort on our parts is tiny compared to what He is willing to do in those moments of surrender. This I know.
Maybe someday I’ll find myself in the spiritual mountains for more than one day or one week at a time. But for now, my desert is actually quite lovely. There are promises here and the anticipation of new chapters to write. God is good in the desert. Isn’t that when we need Him most?