I remember certain moments and seasons where the presence of God was more real than the keyboard my fingers are tapping. I was ten years old in church with my mom and brother, standing in worship. The song, "Shout to the Lord" started to be sung, and His presence surrounded me. "Power and Majesty Praise to the King, Nothing compares to the Promise I have in you..." All I could do was raise my arms and whisper the words, as tears slid down my cheeks. I knew that day that even though I may never understand fully, God's presence truly came and touched people in tangible ways. I was in the sanctuary of the baptist church I attended in high school, only having been serving God a short time. As I prayed, He came, completely unsure of what to do, I just got on my knees and sat, breathing in and out as slowly and calmly as possible, I just knew I didn't want Him to leave. I walked into a prayer chapel my first week of college at 2 a.m. and His presence was so strong that I couldn't even stand. I just fell straight to my knees on the hard ground as He began to talk to me and set the tone for my next years of school. I climbed out of bed, grabbed my Bible, and walked down the hallway to the trash shoot in my dorm building where I knew no one else would be at 6 a.m. Most of the college freshman were sleeping off a long night and I was sneaking out to be with my Beloved. As I walked in and said "Good morning Father", His presence surrounded and I slid to the floor in a melting pot of love. I was in my kitchen, fixing a cup of coffee, returning to my bedroom, where I had two chairs set up. One for me, one for Jesus. I had decided that I wanted Him to know that if He ever wanted to come in natural form in the room, I had a place for Him, and He was always invited. When I sat down in the chair, I couldn't see Him, I couldn't hear Him, but I could feel His bodily Presence. It was as if He were in that chair, looking right through me, and piercing the deepest parts of my heart. I walked into my dark office as a coach at 5 a.m, His Presence was there waiting for me. I just stopped in my tracks, as tears began to flow and I thanked Him for always being near.
There are plenty more stories I could tell from over the years. Stories of God crashing in on my little world. I love each of these stories. They were each relatively unexpected, I hadn't been "pressing in", instead, in His grace and mercy He just delighted me with His Presence. I love those moments. I cherish them. I place them in my heart and often on my lips as I remember my history with Him. I relish in our love story.
However, as powerful and wonderful as those stories are, I can also stop and think back to times it felt as if He was absent. Those moments where I cried out, longing for just one "feeling", just one little goose bump on my arm, that would remind me that He was right next to me. The goosebump hasn't always come.
I think of the countless faces i've looked into that have asked the all too familiar question. "But where was God when..." Where was God when that man broke in and raped me. Where was God when they made me take a gun and shoot my family. Where was God when they took the people, locked them in the building, and lit it on fire. Where was God when he took the machete and... Where was God when a man came in my room for the 15th time that day. Where was God when he threatened me and... Where was God...?
Take a deep breath. I know, this isn't the type of writing I normally do. I love sharing the testimonies of God's faithfulness, that's been my priority this whole last month! I love to share the highs of this life. My all too familiar hashtag on instagram of #ilovemylife... I do. I love it. But I'm not ignorant of the realities of injustice or pain in this world. Behind the Facebook photo of smiles there have been countless nights of tears, weeping in grief, and begging God for a way to settle in my heart what my eyes have seen and my ears have heard. Next to the times of preaching sermons and seeing many saved, praying for the sick and seeing them healed, there have been many more times of sitting in the dirt with the broken and hurting, their stories more unimaginable than the worst horror movie you've ever seen. There have been visits to broken homes, police departments, and hospitals.
So why write this blog? Because you've experienced this too. Maybe you haven't seen the devastation of war, but you've been through trauma. Yvonne Martinez, director of Bethel's transformation center says this, "The size of the gun doesn't determine whether or not you've been shot".
Most likely you've had moments where you thought, "God where were you?". Where were you when my child died, my divorce went through, the car wreck happened...
This past week has been one of extremes. The highs of hearing testimonies from diseases disappearing, crazy salvation stories, metal plates disappearing, to interceding for friends in horrible situations in nations where we can't even discuss what's going on, to going through trauma training and being ECSTATIC to have more tools to help the precious faces that I adore, to dealing with the reminder again that trauma has a face and it has a name.
As I came home and processed last night I thought about Phoebe Palmer. Phoebe is a revivalist who taught that the Word of God was supreme above all circumstances and all "feelings". I thought about this Truth and how to mesh it with my experiences. Take this one simple reality.
"Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deut 31:6)
He will not leave you or forsake you. This is the Truth. Though experiences may have caused me to "feel" different, this is Truth. I pray each of you reading this have already latched onto this Truth in your life. I pray that you look back on your past experiences and you can know that even though it was hard, God was there, He was right there all along.
As we work with people of trauma, one of the main things we want to do is invite them into this reality. We want the Truth that God never left, to penetrate their hearts, so that they know, even though it hurt, even though it was wrong, even though it was unjust, God didn't leave you, He didn't forsake you, and He is going to help you through.
When the goosebumps don't come in my day to day or even in some of the hard times of life, I've learned to rely on the Word and not my feelings. We've learned to ask Holy Spirit a simple question, "God are you here?". He always is. He always will be. He is faithful to His Word. He never leaves us. He never forsakes us. You can look back on your experiences and invite Him to come show you the Truth, by simply asking, "God will you show me that you were there?". Allow Him to recreate that memory where you won't feel abandoned, but rather you will feel His love. He's a good good Father.
Throughout life you can stand on the promises of His faithfulness. You can rely on the fact that He ABSOLUTELY. POSITIVELY. WILL. NOT. LEAVE. YOU. You are not an orphan. You are a child of God. We look at the faces of victims of trauma and can say with confidence. "He was there with you". He never left your side.
Be Blessed, J. Tate