My church, Life Center Ministries International, does something wonderful every spring.
It is called “The Women’s Encounter” because it is not just a conference but an experience of God’s love. From the lovely decorations to the friendly faces all around, God’s love is evident. Each year the attendees receive a word, a scripture, a gift, teaching, and personal prayer.
Last year’s Encounter was called “The Garden.”
Many women from Life Center came to the stage to share stories; essentially their spiritual seeds, refreshing water, aromatic herbs, and stunning bouquets of flowers. Each one uniquely displayed the goodness of God, and I felt unable to fully absorb the richness of it all.
I would like to share four of my God Encounters.
1.My word was “Rekindle”.
I loved that word! I pictured a rekindled fire in my heart; more love, more passion. Later in the year the word took on a deeper meaning when my husband and I were planning a romantic beach getaway. I was praying about it in July and God gave me a scripture, 1 Samuel 2:8-10. The Message states verse 8 like this;
“He puts poor people on their feet again; he rekindles burned-out lives with fresh hope; restoring dignity and respect to their lives – a place in the sun!”
As our retreat approached, Chris and I decided that we would spend some of our trip writing down our visions and dreams for the future. In 2013 I had started a dream journal where I recorded 171 dreams that I believed God would fulfill. Years of disappointment caused me to put that journal on the shelf and not opened it again. It felt much safer to leave it alone and spend my energies on the challenges of the present. But now I felt God asking me to revisit a few of those dreams, and it was much more painful than I thought it would be.
At the beach, with the cold and windswept ocean outside the window, we started to type our “Family Vision”. I had a vivid dream that night that I named, “House of Hospitality” in my journal. I didn’t quite understand it, but since then God has been showing me the peace and beauty of His vision for my life.
Since our trip in October, I have felt a rekindling of my dreams and a fresh hope overtake the burned-out parts of my life. I took my dream journal out again and started fresh with the title “Reawakening Dreams 2022.”
2. At the 2022 Women’s Encounter I received a scripture, Matt16:19
“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
This was a confirmation of a scripture I had received from a friend for my birthday which just happened to be 2/22/22 last year. Is 22:22 (ESV)
“And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.”
I was deeply impacted by these two verses and used them as my guide throughout the year as I took more authority in prayer.
3. I was on the ministry team and had two opportunities to pray for all the women who stood before me.
This was my favorite part! I could feel God’s overwhelming love for each of His daughters, some I knew and others I had never met. I was blessed by their stories and sweet spirits. I could feel Jesus fill my mouth with the prayers He was praying and the words He was speaking over them.
4. One of the most amazing God encounters during the 2022 Women’s Encounter actually happened in my home after the conference was over.
But it all started when Anne Stock was on stage the day before talking about the higher ways of our Master Gardener. She referenced the parable in Matthew 20 where the workers hired at the end of the day were paid the same wage as those who had been hired at the beginning of the day. I had always felt so thankful that the last would get the same reward as the first, because I considered myself part of the last generation who would see Jesus return to the earth. How amazing that I would receive the same reward from Him as those who had lived in previous generations but had never seen the fulfillment of so many promises!
In Anne’s sweet and wise way, she reframed this parable in a context I had never considered. Those who were not hired until later were not late in coming to the market place, nor were they lazy and not wanting to work. They were waiting in faith at the marketplace the whole day. They were expecting to be hired, they wanted to be hired, but it appeared as though they had been passed over. Anne said something like this, “The woman who has 10 children and has been living in her calling this whole time, you who have been waiting for a baby – you get the same reward.”
A friend sitting next to me poked me in the shoulder and gave me a knowing look, probably because I have 10 children.
“Was Anne thinking of me when she said that?” I thought to myself while feeling vaguely unsettled. I had never considered myself the one who had been hired first and the thought seemed a bit unfair. I quickly forgot about it as I engaged in the rest of the conference.
The next morning, I woke up early with a headache. I went to take a shower and have my praise and worship session with God. I began to sing out Matt 11:28-30 in the Message:
“Are you tired? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
I had chosen that scripture to post on my mirror because I thought my husband could really use it. He had seemed burned out lately. When I sang, “I will never lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you” I began to cry with unforeseen, deep sorrow. Immediately I remembered the reference to a woman of 10 children working through the heat of the day from Anne’s talk the previous day. Like a movie, memories began to play through my mind. Memories of my early days of mothering. Hard days. Impossible days. I felt alone and overwhelmed. I felt like a failure. So much physical and emotional work during the heat of the day. No good support network. Religious pressure to “be a good wife and mother” and not act like I was dying, not ask for help. Not receiving help when I finally asked.
I hadn’t felt the pain of those days in many years. I had forgotten that what it felt like. I didn’t realize that I still carried it.
Through my stifled sobs, Jesus was telling me that He had never laid anything heavy or ill-fitting on me. Not even on my most impossible day.
I had taken the heavy yoke upon myself by making myself a victim, not believing His words, believing the lies, and accepting the pressure the enemy put on me. I asked God to forgive me for carrying my blessings like they were burdens. I forgave all the friends and family who could have helped but didn’t. I thanked God for all the help that I did receive. I thanked Him for enabling me to dig a trench in the isolated desert that He could fill with His grace. I thanked Him for grace on top of grace on top of grace.
I felt His presence washing away the pain and exhaustion of that season and taking away my fear of that season returning. I heard Him gently say, “You never have to go back to carrying the heavy load through the heat of the day. Take my light burden today and every day. You are now heading toward the cool of the evening.”
I felt healed and refreshed and my headache suddenly disappeared. This intense work of the spirit only took about 10 minutes. I hadn’t expected it or asked for it, but the overwhelming goodness of Jesus had encountered me. I felt it a privilege rather than a burden to be allowed to enter so early into my calling to raise 10 children, 24 years ago. And I am not nearly done yet. I have at least 14 more years with children in my home, and I am so happy about it! The first shall be last and the last shall be first, and I am so blessed to abide in Jesus wherever I end up in the line. What a beautiful “Garden” of His presence He has created for me!