The situation was desperate: my husband had lost his business and we were about to lose our house. Every time it seemed things would turn around, something else would happen to burst my bubble of hope.
So I did what I always do when the sky is falling; I took a walk. When I walk I pray and praying, for me, leads naturally to singing and funny stares from the neighbors. The neighbors were probably shaking their heads the day I marched by singing this song that the Lord dictated to me:
Pulverize this mountain!
Tear it down, shake the ground, with the power of your presence.
Re-tell your story,
Bring yourself glory,
Let Heaven invade the earth!”
The decimate song; it became my marching song, my battle song and in the months to come I sang it hundreds of times.
And yeah, I’m a romantic! I wanted God, aka Sir Galahad, to gallop up on a white horse, rescue me, slay the enemy and ensconce me safely in a castle –the brick one on Timber Ridge Dr. I wanted earthshaking deliverance. Mind-blowing rescue. Fireworks and a huge celebration afterwards. I knew God was able.
There were those who thought the whole decimate thing was too passive. They said, “You’ve got to decimate your own mountains.”
Really? You know what decimate means? It refers to the practice of punishing mutinous military units by capital execution of one in every 10, by lot. At that point, the stress in my life was paralyzing; I didn’t have the physical or emotional strength to decimate a cockroach. Why in the world did God give me that word?
As month after month went by and the foreclosure date grew closer, reality started to set in. Yeah, the economic debacle of ’08 definitely contributed to the mess we were in, but we’d also made some mistakes, some whoppers; financial savvy has never been our biggest strength.
The last straw was when our appeal to restructure our home loan fell through because the bank discovered we’d had identity theft; someone had used our social security number to file his taxes. The irony was so blatant as to be almost laughable. Identity theft.
Identity was at the heart of the entire situation: hospitality was my ministry and I’d poured my heart into my home. Without it, who was I? More importantly, who was God?
Apparently not the rescue squad, because I hadn’t heard any sirens.
God didn’t owe us a delivery, but it sure felt like he did. I had dedicated my home to Him and I was banking on Psalm 18:“He rescued me because he delighted in me.” I had prayed that verse hundreds of times and it had been life changing to think that God delighted in ME! But If I was so delightful why didn’t he rescue me?!
With that identity theft it was as if the robber left behind a handwritten note….
“There IS therefore condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…. because He can’t be trusted, He’s not really good and He’s not coming to your rescue.” The thief didn’t just want my house; he wanted my heart. He wanted to steal the knowledge of who I was in Christ: safe, secure, redeemed, valued, forgiven, free.
Eh, I wasn’t so sure about that anymore, but I sang anyway, ‘cause I just knew I’d hear the thunder of those hooves of deliverance any second.
Then for a few days it looked like that white horse might show up, after all. A friend found us a lawyer that assured us she could stop the bank in its tracks. Oops, too late, the bank had sold the loan to Freddie Mac (who is Freddie and what does he want with my house?) and Freddie wasn’t budging.
No thundering hooves of deliverance. No knight in shining armor, no reprieve. Noooo house.
I sang on.
It’s an old-fashioned word, but I felt bereft (deprived, robbed, plundered) and God had allowed it. What had I done to tick Him off so royally? Why was He so blind to my mountain of difficulty? Why did he give me that stupid decimate song if He wasn’t going to decimate my mountain?!
I knew he could save my house with barely a blink of his eye…. But he didn’t blink. The house wasn’t saved. I wasn’t rescued. There was no victory celebration. The shame was crippling.
We packed boxes, sold furniture and moved into a tiny townhouse. But still I sang that song, though admittedly with a little less gusto than previously. And I kept an ear out for those heavenly hooves, because now even more than I had wanted my house to be saved, I wanted to experience heaven invading the earth – the hard, dry, barren earth of my disappointed heart.
There was no doubt in my mind that God had given me that song, so I guessed there must be some other mountain(s) he wanted to decimate (besides the mountain of months of unpaid mortgage payments), but I didn’t have a clue what they were. As the fog of shock over our loss gradually began to lift, one of those mountains came into view:
The Mountain of Fear.
I was pretty familiar with that mountain –had trod every treacherous inch of it over the years, knew every nook and cranny. Ok, maybe there were two mountains, cause right behind fear was the overshadowing mountain of depression.
Full confession: I had a whole mountain range – fear, depression, lack, despair and anxiety and they had plagued me my whole life, even after asking Jesus into my heart. Through the years God had delivered me time and time again, and yet I still didn’t have a “settled confidence in the Lord.”
My son told me I had to take control of my thoughts; that I should write out some affirmations for myself. I remember thinking ok; maybe that’s the whole ‘decimate your own mountains’ thing. He sent me the ones he used – they were fine, but they were his; it felt like Saul’s armor to me, clunky and ill fitting. So I decided to write out my own, but wasn’t sure what they should be. One morning I sat down with my journal, prayed and started writing.
This is what the Spirit wrote, because they for sure weren’t my words:
“Decimating mountains of fear, obliterating depression,
pulverizing despair, dismantling lack, annihilating anxiety.
Building hope muscles. Training my mind to think positive thoughts. Calling sin…sin. Going higher; aiming for and taking higher ground.
Rebuking the victim mentality, Shaking off discouragement. Stomping on old habits, parting ways with the pity party. Stepping out into the future.
I am a child of the Most High God, forgiven, free, blessed and highly favored, royal blood flowing in me.
Lack is not part of my vocabulary. Stressed is not in my thesaurus. Blessed is how I describe myself.
I am rich: rich in favor, in finances, in spiritual wisdom, in practical life knowledge, in relationships, in all my endeavors.”
Day in, day out I recited those words, prefacing them with, “By the Spirit’s leading and power, I am….”
Then I looked up all the hope verses I could find and every verse about light because I desperately needed to get out of the darkness. Every morning while it was still dark I came downstairs with my Bible and journal, lit a candle and read those verses about light and hope.
I started writing down things I was grateful for. One day I was so depressed I decided to take a walk and as I walked I thanked God for everything I could think of, hundreds of simple, ordinary things:
Ice cream cones, front porches, lawnmowers, grass, cracks in the sidewalk, marching bands. I thanked him and thanked him until I thought my heart would burst with how glorious life was, how glorious HE was; until my hope muscles got so big they almost split the seams of my shirt.
When I walked through the front door of my tiny townhouse an hour later, I was filled with hope, sure that those mountains in my life had suffered some serious damage, or at least been cut down to a less daunting elevation.
As I continued practicing gratitude, my old enemies would stop by once in a while to taunt me: “God’s not good. He’s not going to come through for you.” Sometimes I listened to that voice. Other days I stuck out my tongue and kept singing.
Finally one day God asked me flat out, “Who do you say I am?” I knew exactly what he meant: “AM I good?” My response was immediate and emphatic: YES, Lord, you are!
You Are Who You Say You Are. You are good, kind, steadfast and true.
Maybe you’re wondering how I could say that; how could a good God allow such devastating loss? I wondered the same thing but I’ve come to see that there is much to be gained in loss. I like how the Moffatt translation expresses it in the 17th chapter of Luke:
“Whoever tries to secure his life will lose it. And whosoever loses it will preserve it.”
My biggest desire (demand) back then was to preserve my house (my life). The irony is that when I lost my home, I finally found my life. My home is in Him and no bank can take that away from me. Jesus paid the mortgage to a house reserved in heaven for me.
That word mortgage jumped out at me this morning; my etymology antennae was up and even with my limited knowledge of Latin, I knew what I’d find when I looked it up:
Mortgage – from Latin word mortus – “dead” past participle of mori, “to die” + gage.. “pledge.” So called because the deal dies either when the debt is paid or when payment fails.
That’s the way it works with earthly lending institutions. With his death on the cross, Christ took an upside down mortgage situation and turned it on its head.
“He paid a debt he did not owe.
I owe a debt I could not pay.
I needed someone to wash my sin away.
And now I sing a brand new song,
My sins and failures + his payment = a clean deed of ownership.
See, for ten years I’d taken care of that home but I’d neglected my heart, mostly I guess, because I thought God didn’t care about it. You can hang new fixtures but still see yourself (or God) in a bad light. You can re-paint the walls but have your mind smudged with the fingerprints of betrayal. You can replace the cheap laminate with hardwoods and still see the scuffmarks where life has walked all over you. You can pretty up the outside but have unseen structural damage.
I wanted God to save my house. God saw beyond the house to my heart. Or as my new friend, Kat put it, “I got the rescue I needed, it just wasn’t the rescue I thought I needed.”
My son Preston said it this way: “Maybe God isn’t here to rescue us from our problems. Maybe he’s here to rescue our hearts.”
It wasn’t easy – far from it. There were long, lonely nights, days of prayer and soul searching, and countless walks and renditions of that Decimate song, but I finally knew; knew from the center of my being, that place that used to be wrecked and wracked with fear, that God is good. My mountain of unbelief was leveled. Decimated.
And that changed me; that changed everything.
The grandchild of Italian immigrants and North Carolina tobacco sharecroppers, Susan Ely describes herself as being half polenta and red wine and half grits and sweet tea; cooking and sharing stories around the dining table is her idea of relaxation. A former chef and freelance writer for local lifestyle magazines, she blogs about the spiritual aspects of hospitality at www.thesharedtable.com. She speaks on the topic of hospitality and gives her testimony, “Leaving the Safety and Security of Your Shell,” throughout the mid-south region, under the auspices of Stonecroft International. Susan Ely lives in Raleigh, NC with her husband, golden retriever, Abby, and within spitting distance of her two daughters and four of her five grandchildren. Email firstname.lastname@example.org Website www.susanely.com