My journey back to France has taken me back to Oregon along the way. While the purpose of my trip through Oregon was to visit my brother before I headed overseas, I was both surprised and blessed to find it a time of reflection. So much of my history was written in Oregon and I found myself revisiting the events in my life around nearly every bend in the highway.
During this visit to Oregon, I stopped by my old college and the seminary. As I was a young kid out of high-school I headed to Oregon for a music performance degree. Within a year, I started to better understand what a relationship to Christ was about. It was then that my soul heard God’s call to serve. So I switched my major to Missions / Intercultural Communications with a view to going overseas. Those were golden years filled with studying God’s Word, enjoying the fellowship of those around me, and ministering in the church family there. They were years filled with celebrating God’s embrace. What a joy it was to reconnect with old friends!
During this visit back to Oregon, I stopped in to my old churches. My thoughts were taken back to my youth. From those churches, I was sent on short term missions projects in the North of France. Later, I was sent as a full time missionary on the Belgian Church Planting team. I was exactly where God wanted me. But after several years in Belgium, God saw fit to bring me back to Oregon. It was a rough time in my life…I came back as a still young person, dreams crushed and disillusioned. How could I have been so wrong about that feeling that I was exactly where God wants me in Europe? I had vowed that I would be back and I set about trying to make that happen. But I failed. Where was God’s embrace? Instead, I ended up being the Chief Guest Relations Officer on board cruise ships where I was the “French Ambassador” and oversaw all the French activities on board. I saw the world and, at least, I was still connected to Europeans in some way.
This trip took me past the old State of Oregon Capitol Building that factored so greatly in my life. For many years, I was the “problem solver”. I stepped in to 4 agencies in turmoil, got them back on track and restored credibility following scandals, negative legislative actions, and organizational change. I had a ministry to staff and stakeholders, all while discovering I had a real gift for administration. God blessed immensely and I felt God’s embrace in this work. But at the same time of this blessing came the darkest period of my life.
This trip to Oregon took me back to my old houses in the Willamette Valley. And even “Rising Iris Lane”, named after my daughter Iris, where we had our ranch. Again I sat and was taken back to remembrances of a very dark time in my life. After the cruise ships, I returned to Oregon married to a Greek man. They were dark years filled with physical, emotional and psychological abuse. I listened to a daily mantra of how “worthless” I was. How often it was that I had to remind myself that God had a different opinion! I ducked the items thrown at me and pulled the hands trying to choke the life out of me from around my neck. God did bless me with a wonderful daughter who was a ray of light in the darkness. But I often had to turn to shield her and take the blows meant for her on my back. Then there was that night I felt he was literally going to kill us while we slept. I grabbed my daughter and we left Rising Iris Lane for the last time. Where was God’s embrace through all that pain?
But God WAS there, every minute of every day, embracing me even tighter. There were times when I just couldn’t see Him through the pain, but He was still there protecting me and encouraging me. He was carrying me through the darkest of times. It was only His strength and my relationship with Him that got me through. And for all those horribly painful cracks I got along the way, well, God just fills this fragile clay jar of mine with His glory and it is only through those old cracks that His glory shines through. Those cracks, weaknesses, and imperfections, have given me a story to tell about His amazing faithfulness, love and redemption. He was giving me what was needed to help show Him to others. So with this journey full of reflection back to place of both joy and deep pain, I rejoice in ALL the embraces God has given me, through good times and bad, even when I couldn’t see them. How great is our God, indeed!
”But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
2 Corinthians 4:7-11
“No, in all things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”