Friday, March 20, 2015

Joy in the Wilderness

We are honored to share a piece of 2009 Mercy Graduate Courtney's heart and perspective in a trying season of her life. You can check out Courtney's blog here for more encouragement and real truth!


Seasons are a strange thing--particularly when the ground is covered in white fluff and the calendar still reads March. Spring sure hasn't sprung around here just yet!
I think the Lord, likewise, allows seasons to continue or transition outside of the time frame which we see fit or think to be convenient. Sometimes seasons flow from one to the next so smoothly it takes months before you even realize the transition happened. Other times one gives way to another like a high cliff drops off into the valley--sudden and plummeting. Nothing about the latter transition seems normal or comfortable. Much to our dismay, it even hurts and we find ourselves asking, "God, what in the world are you doing? Where are you and why does it have to happen like this? This makes no sense!!"
This season has me nursing the wounds resulting from that sort of plummet from the dreamy, mountain-top high to the valley low. Don't get me wrong--I know His hand to be trustworthy and gracious more than I ever have in my life. Actually, I don't think I would know grace like this had I not made such a sudden descent into this wilderness season. But ya'll, these days are hard!
When you think of the wilderness, what images come to mind?
For me, the wilderness looks like a dark, dry, dead, lifeless and continually decaying place of habitation. I can't imagine much life able to thrive in such a place. For that reason, these wilderness seasons seem so lonely. God did send Israel there for 40 years, right?
But then God says: Behold, I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And THERE I will give her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor (the valley of trouble) a door of HOPE! [Hosea 2:14-15]
The tears flowed steady and thick as I read these words, realizing His great love for me. It's not this image of one just falling into the dark abyss and landing face-flat amidst a dry and decaying land from which He is distant and concealed at best. No, God says He allured Israel into the wilderness; that He spoke tenderly over her. It was THERE, not on the mountain-top high or the depths of darkness, but there in that dry and desolate place where God promised to give her provision and redemption. He says that through the valley of trouble He will make a door of HOPE! Through this season, through the wilderness.
I am thick-headed and easily caught up in my own plans. Perhaps it took the wilderness for me to see Him this way and for some of myself to simmer down enough to recognize my need for Himand His grace. Maybe this season is one of tunnel vision that re-focuses my eyes to see His face in all of His glory and see my own a whole lot less.
It's as if sometimes there are things we can only see in the dark. Maybe instead of cursing the dry season or thinking that something is wrong with us, we look up and see Christ. Maybe He shines even brighter when we feel like everything is going crazy. And maybe all we have to do is keep looking up. Keep looking to Him.
God is this vocal point, this unchanging bright star, and He calls us to look, to stare, to BEHOLD when everything is feeling out of control. "Because sometimes when you really want to see the stars in all of their glory, you have to go out into the wilderness."
God continues to affirm He is so very near through this season by these words from Jeremiah,
"The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, and you shall be built. O virgin Israel! Again you shall adorn yourself with tambourines and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers."
Perhaps the wilderness provides grace lacking in other seasons. If that's the case, I'm so very grateful. He loves us with an everlasting love and promises to continue His faithfulness to us! He will rebuild what's been broken, and such redemption is cause for the dance of the merrymakers!
Praise Jesus He is enough to satisfy our every need, that He does indeed redeem--and that perhaps He uses the wilderness to help us see our need for such redemption and then to find it there too. It is your face, Oh Lord, which we seek.
"For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish." [Jer. 31:25]
Languish:  to become weak or feeble; to droop; to be neglected; to pine with desire or longing
Replenish: to make full or complete again; to fill anew; to supply with fresh fuel
Christ making full or complete again that which was drooping and neglected--well, that makes for such great joy.
If it takes the wilderness to replenish me, then may I be taught by such joy!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Building Spiritual Endurance

Today Mercy Graduate Elyse shares how God met her in an unlikely place to encourage her to press on and forward.
One thing I discovered about living here in Missouri is that there are many areas to go hiking. I didn’t know I had a deep love for hiking until this past summer. I found myself out and about almost every day! There is just something about breathing in the fresh air as you walk through those wooded and hilly areas...
A few weeks ago, the weather was unquestionably beautiful here! It was in the 50’s and 60’’s most of the week and I decided that I was going to enjoy as much time outside as I could get before it dropped into the 30’s and 40’s again. I loathe cold weather even though I lived in Michigan for most of my life. As I began my workout, it started on a paved trail. It was quite easy and I didn’t even break a sweat. The path took me along Springfield Lake where I could look out and see the stillness of the water. It was so peaceful. Not long after that, the path took me past the water and through a field. I walked along listening to Bethel Music and enjoying the scenery. 
Eventually, I got to the point to where you either turn around to take the paved path back or continue across the road to a path which takes you up a hill into the woods. I crossed the road and headed up the hill of rocks. I decided to run them to get my heart rate up. I quickly found that it was quite muddy as I slipped a couple times, but I made it up, huffing and puffing. I walked along the trail, observing the scenery and ended up seeing a few deer run across the path in front of me. (Unashamed side note: I love deer and think they are so adorable. I will try to coax them into letting me pet them. Clearly, it doesn’t work but I like to think one day it will!)
As I continued my hike, I started getting tired. The hills kept on coming and I kept on hyperventilating. Okay...maybe I’m exaggerating a little but I was tired! The trail had become even muddier, my bad knee started to throb, the wind started blowing intensely, and my body was screaming “STOP!” I wanted to give up so bad and just go back to my van, which I lovingly call "Big Bertha”. I thought about taking a short cut but knew I needed to finish. As I continued, the path took me into an open field where it was a little easier to walk and I was able to catch my breath! I knew that path would take me through another wooded area where it would be muddy and rocky but at that moment, my lungs got a break.
This is when the Lord started speaking to my heart and showed me how my work out on that particular day could be compared to our spiritual walk with Him...
Throughout our lives, how many times does God lead us through difficult “workouts?” We walk through easier seasons, like my walk on the paved path along the calm lake. Everything seems to be going well. Our relationships are in a good place, we have a stable job with good pay, everyone close to us is healthy, and overall we are living a good life! But eventually, we get to those “rocky”, “hilly”, and “muddy” areas of life. You know the ones you don’t feel like you can make it through? You keep going but it seems impossible and the idea of quitting seems so appealing. You try your best. You keep breathing. You keep walking…maybe even crawling at times. You can’t see the end. But you choose to believe that God has something great in store for you. He is molding you into what He wants you to be and He is using your circumstance to do so. Just as not being physically active will not increase your physical endurance, shed fat, and build muscle, not going through hard things won’t do much for your growth spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. God allows us to go through things so we can develop a dependence on Him and if we never went through those hard seasons, we would be a one weak individual.  
I say all of this to encourage you not to give up. God has a plan and a purpose for the things you are going through. You may not see it now but God is working behind the scenes in your situation. He is a faithful God who wants the best for you. You are worth it and this journey with Christ is definitely worth it!


Friday, February 27, 2015

The Joy of Freedom!

We could not help but share this amazing update from Mercy Graduate Sara! Her story proclaims redemption and joy.


"On February 22, 2015, I got my black belt in Tae Kwon Do. It took many years to get to this point, but it was well worth it. This day was special for many reasons and signifies many things. It was specifically planned so that it would be as close as possible to my one year graduation date from Mercy Ministries. That alone made it very special. But there is a back story to this accomplishment. I got into Tae Kwon Do after the last time I was sexually abused. It was a way of making sure I could defend myself, but also a way to force myself to interact with others, despite my fears to do so. After a few months, I began to make friends with all of the others in my "color belt" group. I truly enjoyed it, so when my struggle with an eating disorder got so bad that I had to quit, I was devastated. I had to quit for almost a year and a half total by the time I was able to come back to it after Mercy. By then, all of my friends had their black belts and mine was still sitting on the shelf. I was in a complete new group of people and felt the pain of failure many times, because I was so far behind everyone else. I worked hard and continued on and was finally able to celebrate not only getting my black belt and re-entering the same group as my friends again, but also the freedom that came along with it. Now I can work out and not worry about my weight or my health! I have made many new friends, and best of all, I can feel the joy that comes along with it all--something I had not felt for some time before Mercy!"


Friday, February 13, 2015

Celebrating Four Years of Freedom!

We are honored to featured the below post celebrating, 2011 Mercy Graduate, Rachel's four year graduation anniversary! Check out Rachel's blog here
Four years ago, I was sitting at the front of the room with four other girls, our backs to a large picture window. Unbeknownst to us, there was a beautiful snowfall outside. It was the perfect backdrop for the occasion: our graduation from Mercy Ministries. Though our sins and pasts were once as scarlet, they had become white as snow.
February 9, 2011 was one of the most beautiful, freeing days of my life. I had waited almost eight months to receive my Mercy graduation ring (left) and officially become a Mercy Grad, a title that held high honor in my book. There were times (even the week before graduation when my RSD decided to flare up) when I wondered if I’d be able to complete the program, but I felt so proud and grateful when I was presented with my ring and certificate.
I entered Mercy Ministries on June 17, 2010. At the time, I wasn’t super into the idea of being in another “treatment center” of sorts. I had spent four months at a residential facility in Arizona the year prior, only to return home with more problems. I wasn’t totally convinced that this would be any better, but I had made up my mind to either give Mercy a try or give up on life altogether. There was still that tiny spark of hope that kept me going as my feet stepped onto the foyer tiles and I committed to putting forth my best effort.
The shy, wounded girl with anorexia, a cutting addiction, depression, and anxiety who first entered the doors of Mercy was nothing like the confidenthopeful Mercy Grad who stepped from those tiles and out into the “real world” that snowy graduation day. I had gone through such a transformative process during my time at Mercy. I chose to let go of my past and trust God with my future. I had an amazing counselor to talk to, a great staff to lean on, and a group of lifelong friends who were all walking through their own battles but encouraged me along the way.
I can’t even describe the process of how I changed, but it was a daily decision to choose the higher path rather than being dragged down into my addictions and problems. It was a season of receiving tough love, having difficult conversations, crying tears of brokenness, and praying many heartfelt prayers. It was scary and very, very hard…but it was also incredibly life-changing. My time at Mercy saved my life. It restored my hopetransformed my mind, and gave me the opportunity to go from darkness to light.
I am forever thankful for my time at Mercy Ministries. Without taking the risk and walking through those doors that sunny June day, my life would have taken a much different path. In fact, I don’t think my life would have had many more days. Today, I am reflecting on my time at Mercy. Remembering the days when I wanted to quit, the days when life was so overwhelming, the days I just wanted to go home. I’m also remembering the days of victory. The day when I realized that the numbers on the scale no longer controlled my feelings toward myself. The day when I decided to give up control. The day when I finally graduated. I’m remembering with a full heart and a sense of awe for how blessed I am.
Four years and still walking in freedom daily. Thank you, Mercy.