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God is the GOOD Shepherd and I am Safe in His Flock

Julie Ann Filter

God is the Good Shepherd and I am Safe in His Flock

This is a post that I have been waiting for more than 4 years to write.  God has done it.  He brought us through one of the darkest, scariest, heaviest seasons of our lives and we are now crossing through to the other side.

I am so very happy to write this post as so many of you know.  My heart has felt completely worn thin a million times in the midst of all of these many days, but now we find ourselves on the other side of empty: we are full to overflowing.

Our Abba is so so GOOD.

God is the GOOD Shepherd, and this Sheep is Safe in His Flock

If you’ve been following the blog (or me) for several years, you will remember that four years ago my husband knew that it was time to separate from the Navy.  13 years of service, constant overseas back-and-forth travel, and the strain and stress of his interpreting work had left him in a state of spiraling health greatly concerned us both.  At one point, a medical practitioner basically said, “Mark, if you don’t make some serious life changes, I am really, really concerned about what is going to happen.  Your body is in such a state of stress that it is on the border of being incredibly dangerous for you.”

We knew it was time to seek what the Lord wanted for us to do.

After receiving several confirmations that this was in fact where the Lord was leading us for His purposes, we decided against a re-enlistment (and the continuing breakdown of my husband’s health), and stepped into the unknown.

In a matter of two insane weeks, we packed up, sold, or donated everything we owned, prepared our house for sale (we refinished hardwood floors, installed kitchen cabinets, painted EVERY wall, and painted/prepped the exterior…all with 6 kids eight and under in tow), and moved into my mom’s house for six months while it sold.

Then, we bought a 30′ travel trailer, moved what we kept into it, and left everything and everyone we knew behind to follow God on this crazy adventure of re-creating our lives as civilians (more pieces to that story in this post and this follow-up post).

IT HAS BEEN A LONG, HARD ROAD.  BUT, GOD HAS PROVIDED EVERY STEP OF THE WAY.

Have you ever been through something that left you spinning so fast that the disorientation of the event leaves you reeling inside for a while, even though you’ve stopped spinning.  That is how it feels right now.  Like, the weight of this season has been so intense and so heavy for so long that I’ve grown accustomed to carrying it.  It is going to take some time to process through these last four years.

But, in short, here is the tale of God’s story with us, that He may be glorified every step of the way.

Cute Sheep

GOD CALLED US TO GO

More than four years ago I felt the Lord speak a Word to me.

I am sending you into the desert, like Abram and Sarai, Moses and the Israelites, for I am taking you to your Promised Land.”

The words hung on me.  There was a mixture of hope and fear.  What was He cooking up now?

At the time, our family was in a state of chaos.  My husband and I were healing after several years of pain in our marriage, our kids were great but we felt overwhelmed a LOT, our son had been diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder two years prior, and life just felt impossible a LOT of the time.

But, when the Lord spoke these words to my heart, I knew He would take care of us.  He had done it before.  He told me that He was giving me two more sons months before I got pregnant with the first of the two.  He had given me names and purposes for them.  One had already become known.

He had given me a special gift when my son’s illness began two years prior, as we drove to the ER, the Monday after Easter that year, while my son displayed disheartening symptoms.  He spoke to my heart:

You are entering your Job season.”

I felt fear mixed with unrelenting faith.  My Abba already I knew what was happening and was not worried, so why would I be?

He had sent a special messenger in those first few hours, a woman in the ER waiting room who spoke a word of knowledge to me (completely unaware of what had God had laid on my heart only hours prior) saying,

Do you believe that God speaks to people?  Well, He is telling me that you are a real woman of faith and that your son is going to be okay.  He’s got you.”

Talk about a faith boost.  I cannot tell you how many times I have returned to this single event for hope in the midst of these last four years.

Now, before you go thinking that these things are totally old hat for me, think again.  They were and are unusual events in the span of my life, and I am so UTTERLY grateful for God’s Words in those days.  They have become my bedrock upon which I can cling to when the storms of life truly felt like there was no way we were getting through unscathed.

In the final days of remaining in the military, suddenly the years of study into frugal living, saving, making food from scratch, living on less, etc. all seemed to catch up to their intended purpose.

In short duration, we had to make a large leap from living on our military income to living on a fraction of that amount, but thankfully the Lord had been preparing me for this for many years.  We had all the tools necessary to follow Him into the unknown.

sheep grazing in a valley

A JOURNEY WITH UNEXPECTED LESSONS

At first the journey felt exciting and thrilling.  It was new, adventurous, like a movie with an unknown plot.  But, truly, the glamour dies.

I know that some people truly love RV living, but we soon found out that our family deeply struggled with the tight quarters for so many.  Daily we worked to navigate bickering, and frustrations, and overwhelm, and stress, and balance, and tidiness, and the typical daily cycles of wake/eat/sleep.

Throw into the mix homeschooling, 6 kids, one dog, and no income, in the midst of 250 sq ft of living space and you can see how stressful the situation was.  Although I trusted God to get us through the valley, I had no idea how long we would in fact be walking through the muck with Him.

This season has surely given me new eyes for the journey that the Israelites took upon leaving Egypt.  I understand the fleshly pressure to complain, and doubt, and fear, and covet.  It was ALL there.  The difference, though, is that I had the gift of the Holy Spirit in my life to help guide and comfort me in the midst of these greatest sorrows of the day.

HE SPOKE THE WORD OF TRUTH TO MY SOUL OVER AND OVER AGAIN, REMINDING ME OF ALL THE PROMISES THAT GOD HAS MADE IN HIS WORD, AND THAT GOD DOES NOT CHANGE.

The fascinating thing that I had yet to understand was that knowing and believing these words are two completely different things.  And, I could not will myself to believe them.  That is a lesson that God had to hand walk me through with Him.  He had to SHOW me that He could be trusted…and He surely has.

Over and over again He placed situations into our lives that challenged preconceived thought patterns and fears.  Like the time when He allowed a family friend to criticize us for becoming pregnant in the midst of this trial because he perceived it to be irresponsible and foolish since we chose to get out of the cushy comfy “security” of the Navy.

This lesson began to loosen the grip that a fear of man had held on my heart.

Another time we experienced the condemning suggestion that our struggle for work was due to a “generational curse,” flippantly thrown onto our backs without any hope for reconciling the idea with some supposed solution.

This lesson revealed the deceitfulness of legalism and the lack of understanding for what it means to be freed in Christ.

Yet more still remained.  Two years into our RV living, our oldest daughter began to waste away before our eyes.  Over the course of several months she began losing weight, but it was not so noticeable until it was GLARING (she unintentionally hid it well with baggy tee-shirts).  We had gone without health insurance for all this time, terrified that the kids would even fall off a bike for risk of breaking a bone, and here we were facing a major medical crisis.

THERE WAS NOTHING LEFT FOR US TO DO BUT LEAVE IT ALL IN GOD’S HANDS AND TRUST HIM.  TURNS OUT, THIS WAS EXACTLY WHAT HE HAD WANTED ALL ALONG.

Our daughter was easily diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and was hospitalized for the next two days while they carefully regulated her high glucose and acidic blood.  We began a whole new journey that day, and still that journey continues in our lives.  What also tagged along was the revealing of a new lesson regarding the rhetoric associated to the welfare system and the preconceived assumptions made about those who use it.

On that day we became part of the statistics, and I am so incredibly grateful that we did.  Medicaid provided every SINGLE thing that we needed to keep our daughter alive.  It was such an incredible gift from God, and we never stopped recognizing His Hand to protect us and take care of us through whatever means He saw fit every step of the way.

This lesson was to stop trusting condemning assumptions about others, but rather extend mercy, love, compassion, and empathy for the plights of the poor, whether or not I know their stories. 

Their choices are NOT mine to understand and approve, but it is my job to always extend love.

Sheep close-up

HE CALLED MY HUSBAND TO A NEW PATH

For two years my husband worked to obtain employment similar to what he had done in the military.  Repeatedly we hit closed door after closed door.  He turned to try another way in, and still the door was locked.  He tried to see if there was a window open.  NOPE.

The Lord made Himself perfectly clear that there was no going backwards on this walk, and that my husband needed to trust Him and go into a new direction.

I said, “babe, what kinds of things do you actually like to do?  Maybe stop going towards the stuff that was killing you before, and actually try to move in a direction of work that invigorates and brings you life.”

So, he thought about it, and naturally came up with the thing that was obvious to me: coding.  He had always dabbled in computers and coding and development, etc.  As a kid he had even built tricorders and other props from Star Trek from scratch!  He is a futurist at heart, so it only made sense that he turn the natural linguistic skills he had into the new languages of coding.  That is exactly what he did.

Within a matter of a week we had a plan (oh, and by the way, I was nearly 9 months pregnant at this time with our 7th child..it was January 2016, just over two years after moving into the trailer, and we were holed up in a campground in the boondocks of South Carolina simply trying to survive): he would begin classes in April at a college in Orlando, FL, and we would continue to live off of savings and the GI Bill.

So, that translated into I would give birth and three weeks later we would travel 500+ miles, pulling the trailer, to the Orlando area to live in a campground 45 miles away from the school.  And then, about two weeks later, classes would begin for the next 22 months solid.

It was INTENSE.  And, I experienced a heavy dose of postpartum blues with all of the overlapping transitions in the midst of simply having a baby.  But God got us through….

HE HELPED US TO KNOW HIM MORE

As the last two years of our journey unfolded, the Lord continued to help us to know Him more.  He challenged our assumptions, and He walked with us through our whirlwind of emotions.  He especially revealed Himself anew to my husband, who had many things to work through from pains of his youth.

BUT, WHAT WE LEARNED EVERY STEP OF THE WAY WAS MORE AND MORE ABOUT THE GOODNESS OF OUR ABBA.

We learned more deeply how beautiful His mercy and grace truly are.  We had new revelations of His character and beauty and Love and unending, never failing glory than ever before.  He showed Himself to us in ways we could never have experienced and understood without first being brought to the utter end of ourselves.

The season of fire and purification was hot and burning and painful and full of sparks flying every where, but it was also the most refining experience I could have ever imagined.  Fire by fire He was cleansing our hearts, not because we were rebellious and disobedient, but because we could not cleanse ourselves.  He was piece by piece walking with us to reveal the things that we had planted deep within ourselves in the earliest years of life, that remained as deeply rooted weeds that blocked us from knowing Him better and more clearly.

He gave us new eyes to see and know Him, and for that I am so incredibly grateful.  I pray that I NEVER stop seeing.

THE ENEMY WORKED INTENSELY TO CREATE FEAR AND WORRY IN OUR HEARTS AND MINDS

On February 2, my husband graduated from his program.  He was valedictorian, had perfect attendance, and earned 11 “course director awards.”  It was an amazing moment of glory to God for all that we had been through for two years.  His diligence, fortitude, work ethic, and integrity provided a sweet opportunity for the Lord to honor him mightily.

You can hear in the video the announcer start out with “wow” before beginning the list of awards that Mark had earned.  Then, the President of the school got down on his knee to shake his hand, lol.  Over and over we saw such great things from the staff and teachers, who really loved Mark’s diligence and tenacity, not to mention his directness about issues as they came up, an uncommon trait for most college-goers.

Let me tell you, as his wife and the person who has supported him over the course of this very long journey, he has worked his BUTT off every. single. day. and I am SO incredibly thrilled that the Lord saw fit to honor him in this way.  It was truly an incredibly moment for all of us in the midst of what we have been through for these many years.

This exact thing has been my prayer for him for many, many years.

But, in the wake of such a glorious completion, we simultaneously stepped into the most intense time of attack.  The enemy continually pelted us with lies, doubts, confusions, and frustrations for weeks as we waited for a company to hire my husband.  Interviews happened, and then nothing.  Recruiters would contact him, and then disappear from contact.  He even had a full interview process with full expectation of hiring, only to be let down with disappointment when they had a change of plans at the last minute (this one is a looooongggg story).

Still, we heard the Lord continue to whisper His Truths:

I’ve got you.  I have great plans for you.  Have I not told you.  I am making a way through the desert.  Be still and know that I am God.”

Out of the darkness, a light of hope emerged, and a company in North Carolina contacted Mark.  They worked diligently and intentionally to set up initial interviews, and these quickly turned to next steps for interviewing.  They even flew him up there to have an in-person interview.

THEN, WAITING.  WAITING.  AND MORE WAITING.  IT SEEMED LIKE THE DAYS TOOK YEARS.

All the while in the midst of these days we experienced an onslaught of emotional roller coasters, fear, financial concerns, and feelings of hopelessness and despair.

How long, Lord?  How long?!

Finally, after two weeks, we received the final word: THEY HAD CHOSEN MY HUSBAND FOR THE JOB!

Quote_GoodShepherd

VICTORY FOR THE LORD

I cannot even begin to explain the feeling of hearing that my husband had been selected for the job.  If you have ever given birth, the best way I can explain it is the stupor and mindlessness that you feel instantly after going through the most insane and intense experience of your life and than you’re looking at your baby in your arms and just feel joy mixed with “I can’t believe I just did that.  It’s over.  That was SO hard.”

That.  That’s what we felt.  It still will take time to let the joy and reality of this new season to sink in.

But, one thing’s for sure, the assurance that the Lord is for us and will never let us fall is now something that is fortified within us.  The deepness and intensity of this experience has burned these lessons into the deepest parts of our souls, exactly where I’d want them to be.

AND NOW, A NEW ADVENTURE!

So, now we are packing and planning and looking for houses and excited about all that the Lord has in store for us in the wake of the MANY lessons we have learned.  We are so incredible excited about entering back into the world, but not to be confused with being part of the world.

No longer are we under the guise that any of our blessings come from our hands or works or anything other than the grace and goodness of God.

No longer do we think that we are to make the plans and figure things out in our own strength in order to please God (and truly, I am not sure that I would have known that these things were there before…but the fires of this season revealed the weeds and untwisted them from our hearts).

I am sure that it will take us time to truly work through applying the lessons we have learned, but my eyes see things like never before.  Maybe one day I’ll be able to more clearly share how the lenses have changed.

For now, though, I can say with utter clarity that now I know what it truly means to KNOW God, have my identity in Christ, and to follow Him wherever He leads.

And I pray that I might not grow too comfortable and cozy in this world or life that I would be disinclined from following Him again where He leads.

I hope that you’ve enjoy the journey along with us.  There is SO much more to share, but how does one cover a six year season in a blog post?  Thank you for your support through the years.  Thank you for your encouraging responses, emails, and comments.  They have fueled me in ways you could not possibly know.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.” ~ Eph. 3: 20-21

This article and its contents was originally published on BeWholeMom.com. All ideas and arguments expressed within are copyrighted to and owned by its original author.