ANY OLD BUSH WILL DO (Part 2)

When you see or hear the words “holy place,” what pops into your mind? The “Holy of Holies” in the Old Testament tabernacle? The proposed spot in Jerusalem where Jesus died on the cross? The wailing wall by the Temple mount, with hundreds of prayer requests folded and tucked into the cracks? Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem? Your local church sanctuary?

“Holy” carries the connotation of being set apart for a special purpose. As special as those places are that I mentioned in the previous paragraph, any spot where you meet God in a significant way is a holy place. In a blog by the same title (except for Part 2), posted April 21, 2019, I wrote about how an automobile became “holy ground” for me on different occasions in my spiritual pilgrimage. In Part 2, I’ll share how God met me in the following places, in life-altering ways:

*The back porch steps of my home in rural, southwestern North Carolina.

*The carpeted floor of the boy’s dorm prayer room at Carson-Newman College in Tennessee.

*A street corner in the small town of Chesnee, South Carolina.

The backdrop for this article is in Exodus 3:1-10, where God spoke to Moses through a burning bush that was not consumed by the fire. As Moses approached this strange phenomenon, God spoke to him: “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” God proceeded to commission Moses to go back to Egypt and lead His chosen people out of bondage.

I am no Moses. I haven’t seen a literal burning bush that wasn’t consumed. I have not heard God’s voice audibly. And God hasn’t ordered me to remove my shoes. Yet in each of the following places, God gifted me with His undeniable presence.

Please note: This aticle isn’t just about me. I write it so you’ll be sensitive to the possibility of any mundane location becoming “holy ground” where you meet God in a special way.

 

The Back Porch Steps

During my elementary school years (grades 1-8), perhaps even later, I’d often sit alone on those steps and watch the sunset. I’d stare at the mountain range that began 25 miles away, feeling a deep despair of spirit, a yearning for something–for what, I couldn’t grasp. I’d cry out loud, and start praying, “God, why in the world am I so sad, so empty? Why am I hurting inside?” I couldn’t see reasons in my circumstances for the unfathomable melancholy that enveloped me.

Now, I realize that major depressive episodes pockmarked my childhood. But my dad and mom, with a seventh and fifth grade education respectively, weren’t cognizant of mental health issues such as depression. Even if they had been able to put a label on my condition, they didn’t have the money for treatment.

As I grew into early adolescence, I’d  sit on those steps and talk to the Lord about girls. I’d tell Him who I liked at school, and bemoan my shyness and lack of self-confidence. Even when I was condemning myself aloud, I’d be speaking to Him every other breath, asking Him to change me and guide me.

I don’t recall a specific prayer uttered from those steps that the Lord directly answered at the time. Yet in retrospect, I consider those steps holy ground. Even before I knew what the word meant, that is where I learned to lament, to pour out my feelings, questions, doubts and complaints to a God in whom my parents had taught me to believe.

In Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament, Mark Vroegop says, “Lament is how we bring our sorrows to God. Without lament, we wouldn’t know how to process pain.” Vroegop goes on to say that instead of revealing a lack of faith, lament is strong evidence of faith in God. It is rooted in the rock-ribbed belief that Someone who cares is listening.

“Thank you, Father, for those back porch steps. For meeting me there. Those steps were obliterated years ago, along with the rest of the house I lived in. Yet that is where, with Your Spirit’s prompting, I learned to take my hurts to You.”

Any old bush will do. Even when it is in the form of concrete steps that no longer exist.

 

The Floor of the Prayer Room in the Boy’s Dorm

During my first two-and-a-half years of college, I resolved to change my social life. I dated several girls during that time, which was a huge improvement over the number I dated in high school: zero. But there was one problem: I tended to “fall” for every girl I asked out, to become more emotionally-dependent on them than the early stage of the relationships merited. I based my identity and sense of significance on how they responded to me. In retrospect, I realize that I was “falling in love with  love” rather than with a particular person. The consequence was that I’d scare off girls who might otherwise have kept dating me, by writing them poems or offering words of affection that would normally be reserved for a more serious relationship.

It all came to a head when I took Christy to an on-campus event, early in the Spring semester of my junior year. It was our first (and only) date. When I told her goodnight back at her dorm and gave her a friendly peck on her cheek, I began feeling intense affection for her that had no logical basis, because I hardly knew her. I felt disgusted with myself for letting it happen again. I was sick and tired of that vulnerability. I knew I wasn’t cut out to stay single, but I wasn’t approaching the dating scene with anything resembling emotional maturity.

I literally ran across campus to the boy’s dorm, locked myself in a seldom-used prayer room, and threw myself on the carpet. As I lay spread-eagled on the floor, I pleaded with God, through loud crying, to stabilize me emotionally. I asked Him to direct me to the woman whom I’d eventually marry. I surrendered my dating life to the Lord and asked Him to manage it. My intent was to pull back and take no initiative in the dating sphere for a while. I’m now 69 years old, and I’ve never voiced a longer, more gut-ripping prayer than I did that night.

Later that semester, a good friend suggested I ask out the roommate of his girlfriend, who had recently ended a “going steady “relationship with a guy. I took the young lady to an on-campus concert. We clicked conversationally, and those romantic feelings welled up yet again. Yet I tamped them down and determined not to move too fast. The next couple of weeks were difficult, especially when I’d stand in the cafeteria line and see her eating with her former boyfriend. My heart lurched. I  wondered if they were getting back together. That’s when I whispered to the Lord, “I gave you my future with girls. Whether or not she’s the one for me, I can trust You. I don’t have to worry about her former flame.” (Though admittedly, I still worried to some extent.)

When I asked her out a second time that semester, she said “Yes.”  Dolly also said “Yes” fifteen months later, on June 5, 1971. She’s still the one. We’ve enjoyed 48 years of married bliss (47 for me, one for her….).

Any old bush will do. Even the tear-stained, grimy carpet in a dorm prayer room.

*For a full blog about God answering my prayer for a wife, see the article “Help! I Need A Wife!” posted on May 31, 2018. To access the blog archives, go to the home page of penetatingthedarkness.com and click on the  green READ MY BLOG spot, then scroll back to the date.

 

Street Corner  

I was eleven years old when mom abruptly checked me out of school one day. I had never seen the car I climbed into, nor the man who was driving it. Even for the early 1960s, I was naïve about boy-girl relationships. But I knew something was amiss when I kept hearing Henry call my mom,”Hon.”

She was leaving my dad for a coworker she met at the cotton mill, and took me with her. They didn’t seem to have any particular destination, staying in motels in Georgia and Florida during their fling. A few days later, Henry finally convinced her to get rid of me. They drove back to Chesnee, South Carolina, a border town just a half hour from my home in North Carolina. Mom called a friend, who was instructed to call my dad and tell him where he could come get me. I stood on the street corner as she and Henry drove away.

Confused.

Scared.

Alone.

I can only give a general summary here of the damaging effects in later years of her abandonment. I was 31 years old when angry flashbacks started. Pain that had been suppressed surfaced and all hell broke loose in my spirit over a several month period. That led to a difficult choice to forgive my mom, and to my asking for her forgiveness for the resentment I had harbored for so long. It  wasn’t until the early 2000s that a counselor heard my story, and explained the effects of her abandonment on a hyper-sensitive child, during a crucial early-adolescent stage of development. He helped me see how my current relationships were affected by her abandonment, why I was excessively dependent on others’ love and affirmation. Though my forgiveness of her had eradicated the anger and heart-piercing flashbacks, scar tissue remained, and it occasionally throbbed.

In 2007, I felt constrained to drive to Chesnee from my home in Columbia. For a long time, I sat on a bench at the same street corner where I had stood, forty-six years earlier. I prayed a lot, seeking a fuller healing of the memories. Sadness settled in, and tears flowed freely. That’s when I heard the Holy Spirit convey the following message to me, not audibly, but through what I call His “inside whisper.” I’m not saying He spoke the following precise words, but I am capturing the essence of His message to me.

“Terry, you were not alone that day in 1961. You couldn’t see Me, but I was standing here, right beside you.

“I’m the One who eventually brought your parents back together. I’m the One who prompted those angry flashbacks in 1981, forcing you to recognize and to deal with your bitterness toward your mom. I’m the One who convicted you of your bitterness, and led you, despite your protests, to apologize to her for the resentment you had harbored for twenty years. And I’m the One sitting beside you on this bench today, in 2007. I’m the One who’ll give you the capacity to love people even when you don’t seem as important to them as they are to you. From this experience, you’ll learn that you love others best when you don’t rely on their reciprocal affection to verify your self-worth.”

The Spirit’s words continued: “I’m not saying that you won’t ever feel this pain again in this life. But I do promise you that I’ll redeem the pain. Now go home. Write your story so others who feel the pain of betrayal will deal with their resentment. I don’t want My people to sin in response to the sin against them.”

Any old bush will do. Even a spot on the street corner where a befuddled kid had stood 46 years previously, waiting for his dad. (The photo accompanying this article is the same street corner in  Chesnee.)

 

In what places have you had a pivotal encounter with the Lord?

*The full-length article about learning to forgive my mom is titled “Release From Resentment.”  Just Between Us magazine published it online, and you can find in in my blog archives  (December 17, 2018).

 

 

 

 

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