Unless you know God's love for you, you'll never be able to truly love others. Roy Curry
Lessons from the Gateway
The Lord prunes the dead wood out of our lives to make room for new growth.
Jesus said every branch in me (in Him) that doesn’t bear fruit He takes away. One morning in June, a large dead branch fell from an oak tree beside the driveway at Lilac Hill near the entrance, barring my way to my 97 year old father. I was surprised to find it because there hadn’t been a storm or any significant wind since I had been there the night before. The branch had just fallen.
Here was a thick, dead, lichen-covered branch from an oak tree “at the gateway,” preventing me from going up. The Lord was getting my attention at the gateway, the point of entry and exit. I couldn’t access my father. “So what are you showing me Lord?” I asked.
Lee and I looked upon his art as a ministry. His art was Lee’s expression of worship, the teaching he did his venue through which he could awaken others to that joy in God, the giver of those artistic gifts. I had a very hidden role in “our ministry.” I handled all of the administrative details, wrote the press releases and created the promotional material. I took a few painting classes with Lee so I could write the promotion from a first hand experience, not for a desire to grow artistically. His art and teaching were the sole source of our income. It was imperative that he and I be unified in our purpose — with God first and with each other.
Lee and I fully believed God would heal him of the cancer. He taught his classes through the winter of 2016, and we had scheduled a full selection of classes for the spring. He never gave up his hope that he would not die, but live, and would declare the work of the Lord (Psalm 118: 17)— and that he would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27: 13) We clung to God’s Word.
God healed Lee by taking him home on April 24, 2016, two days before our 36 wedding anniversary. When Lee took his last breath, everything he and I had built our life upon for 36 years was removed: our marriage and our shared purpose in the arts.
During those first tumultuous days without Lee by my side, several different people prophesied to me that Jesus was now my husband, and that I would sense His nearness like never before. I read the Song of Solomon and meditated on those words reflecting the love relationship I have with my Bridegroom King Jesus, the Lover of my soul — His desire for me, His acceptance, His promises, and His undying love. I wanted them grafted into my deepest being, to fully entrust my heart to Him.
I was in a new, unfamiliar place — a new place in my life and and a new place with God. He had not chosen to heal Lee in this life. Lee and I couldn’t stand together and tell the world God had performed a glorious miracle of healing — yet, I knew deep in my heart that Lee had been healed as he had stepped into the realities of heaven. He is as alive as Jesus is, and the three of us are still the three stranded chord ministering through the arts.
During that whole tender first year without Lee, I learned to dance on the dance floor of life with the Lover of My Soul. He was teaching me new dance steps. One of the highlights of the year was the Valentine He gave me last February — a ten week class on writing memoir that started on Valentine’s Day. As I was registering for the class, He whispered in my ear, “You are my beloved. I know the desires of your heart. Go for it!”
I clung to Jesus, my dance partner, every moment of every day. He held me close and I felt the thrill of discovery in the new steps he was teaching me. We danced in His marvelous, scintillating light, around the black hole of my loss. When my mind was on the dance, and my eye fixed on Him, I was only aware of the light. But without fail, certain events would cause that light to recede and “the black hole” to dominate my perception. I pictured myself as a little girl on my hands and knees at the edge of a pool of utter blackness, peering in — trying to make sense of it. Why wasn’t Lee healed? Where did we go wrong?
So what were the triggers that took me to that place? Close friends celebrating their long, thriving marriage on Lee and my anniversary, their many years serving the Lord together and excitement about many more to come. News of my sister Margaret’s thriving art career. Margaret and Lee had walked a similar path and had encouraged each other along the way with their painting, teaching and the business of art. That art connection had always been a joy, iron sharpening iron. Like Lee, Margaret was doing what she was created to do.
My relationship with Margaret through our 15 month crawl through the valley of cancer became the refiner’s fire for my heart, the launderers’s soap. As I heard about her success, mostly through my father who was in touch with her every day, the Lord would cause me to examine my heart for any vestiges of comparison, competition or jealousy. I was questioning our purpose and our motives. Why create beautiful art? Just to decorate the walls of those who can afford it? There had to be more. That soul searching would always come back to our relationship with God. Lee’s art was his song of praise, even in the midst of the darkest night. This was the song of our marriage. Our sojourn through the valley of cancer was our walk. “Help us to trust you through it, Lord. However things go,” we would pray.
“The large dead branch in me. What is it Lord?” I asked.
Two weeks after coming across the dead, lichen covered branch in the driveway at Lilac Hill, Margaret was coming down for a visit. The Friday before she was to arrive, I woke up in a deep state of depression. This is not the norm for me. If I’m feeling sad, I ask my Bridegroom King to take me in His arms and teach me a new step. But on that day, I could not cajole my way out of the dark dungeon of despair.
I got through the weekend, unable to shake the darkness, and on Monday went to the Glen Burnie House of Prayer where I serve two days a week. My heart was heavy, and the other gals on the team sensed it.
“What’s going on with you, my dear?” Carol asked, her eyes reading me. I burst into tears, and poured my heart out. Tears are healing, as is having a safe place in which you can share your deepest heart and receive prayer.
"Can you go somewhere beautiful while your sister is down,” Carol asked. “Just get away. for a couple of days. You will come back refreshed.”
As I was driving home from the House of Prayer, the Lord put on my mind to go to the Wades point Inn in St. Michael’s, a little town on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay, an hours drive from Annapolis. I called my friend Beth who owns and operates the Inn, and she told me there was availability for the weekend and I could come. Lee and I spent our first anniversary at the Wades Point Inn and also our last, thirty five years later.
When I entered the long driveways to the inn, the tumult in my heart ceased. I parked my car in one of the spaces overlooking the water, and got out. A tangible peace, a heavenly hush enveloped me like a warm blanket on a cold day. The receptionist escorted me to the Sunset Room on the third floor of the old wing. From my bed I had an expansive view of the Bay. I had asked the Lord to expand my view as I was driving across the Bay, and he answered that prayer. Over the two days I was there, I had such a keen awareness that Lee was truly alive and at peace, and I was partaking of his heavenly experience. I enjoyed the twinkling of sunlight on the water from my room and watched extraordinary sunsets over the Bay from the lawn.
I had the opportunity to visit with my friend Beth on two occasions. We sat in chairs on the lawn overlooking the water, and talked to the rhythmic lapping of the water on the rocky seawall. Her family had owned the inn for over thirty years. They bought it soon after Lee and I had celebrated our first anniversary there. This was their ministry — creating a set-apart space where people could connect with God and themselves through the pristine beauty of the point, a 300 degree, unobstructed view of the Bay.
Beth had tasted of heart ache, brokenness and loss in her life too. She shared with me how the Lord had taught her to live in a readiness to forgive. “Jesus says we are to forgive 70x7 times,” she said. “Once I really learned that lesson of forgiveness, I was set free of all bitterness and anger, and certain trying relationships in my life no longer held me in grief and bondage. Love quietly entered, and along with that love, an ease in communication began to take place without me having to say a word. It was just there! That was a miracle!” she said smiling. Later that night, I asked myself who I needed to forgive? My father? My sister? Myself? “Maybe I need to forgive You, Lord,” I said out loud. “Search my heart and show me!”
While I was at the Wades Point Inn, I realized how precious and fleeting our time on earth is. Our life is but a breath, a vapor in the light of eternity. Our relationships are precious, God orchestrated. How could I waste even one precious moment harboring bitterness, discontent, or any other ugly thought, when I KNOW without question that I will spend my eternity in heaven, a place of beauty of which the beauty and peace at the Wades Point Inn is but a shadow.
I was dancing in the light once again. The black hole ceased to exit. God had taken it away. That was a miracle, and I knew it! This was not just wishful thinking. I was ready to return to Annapolis and looked forward to visiting with my sister Margaret over her last remaining hours on Lilac Hill.
Lesson # 5 Overcoming Unbelief