Monday, July 28, 2008

burdens and blessings

My husband grunted as he carried my suitcase downstairs.

“I packed light,” I said with conviction.

“Your suitcase is ten pounds over. Would you like to try to pare it down, or pay $50 more?” The woman at the ticket counter asked. “I packed light,” I said as I stared at her blankly. She in turn pointed to the scale showing that my suitcase was indeed exceeding American Airline’s fifty-pound limit. Drat.

Fortunately, I had packed an empty bag inside of my suitcase and was able to jam a heavy notebook, 2 pairs of shoes and a bag of granola into it. So much for my plan to go light with my carry-on bags as well. So much for the books I had hoped to purchase at the conference and bring home in the extra bag that was now filled to the brim with “light.”

My light packing continued to bless me all the way through security, the long walk to my gate, into the restroom, de-boarding the plan, scurrying across the Dallas/Fortworth Airport to catch the tram and the long walk to my final gate. It blessed me with a shoulder rubbed raw from the strap and a very sore neck.

After my new friend, Tonya, offered me a ride, I started to worry that my light packing might not fit in her company car. Her light packing looked very different from mine. She had fit everything she needed in a standard size carry-on suitcase and a rolling briefcase. My other new friend, Tara, checked her suitcase, but alas, her suitcase was at least half the size of mine. The three worn out words came tumbling out of my mouth before I could stop them, “I packed light.” Only this time the statement came out sounding more like a question.

OK, so my suitcase took up half of the trunk, but it fit. My sweet new friends just looked at me and smiled sweetly. (I could almost hear their minds answering my three words, with their own three words: “Bless her heart.” After spending a weekend in North Carolina, I came to understand what that phrase really means. It isn’t exactly the cheery sentiment this girl from the Pacific Northwest always believed it to be.)

My naivety ended up slapping me upside the head on Saturday night of the She Speaks Conference. Renee Swope gave an amazing talk that left all of us deep in prayer and contemplation. God used her to challenge and minister to us in a such a profound way that I can’t even begin to try to wrap words around the experience.

After her talk, Renee encouraged us to write down different things that we felt holding us back from living the lives God was calling us to. We were then invited to carry them to the cross at the front of the room and lay it down. I watched as pens furiously wrote and women began to be ministered to in prayer by the P31 team. The line got longer as the women laid down their burdens at the cross and then picked up a Bible verse meant just for them. For about ten minutes, I sat, praying for the other women and feeling pretty confident that I didn’t have any burdens to lay down.

And then it happened — bam. “Oh, that might be something I should lay down. OK, Lord, I can give you my insecurities and doubt.” There, that wasn’t so bad. BAM! “Ooh, there is that…” And then the tears started flowing and I couldn’t stop.

Tonya and Tara, who were seated on either side of me, both put their arms around me. Tonya spoke a beautiful prayer over me as I continued to cry. Precious friends. My beautiful wildflowers. Tara passed me a note that touched me to the core. It’s still tucked safely in my Bible and brings a smile to my face every time I flip by it.

At one point, one of the P31 women stood and prayed over both Tara and myself. I felt so blessed. While Lindsey ministered to us with some quiet songs, I felt God directing me to Psalm 37, as well as a chapter in Isaiah.

After receiving several more insightful “bams”, I felt as though my list was complete. (Yes, I admit I had been in complete denial previously. Given that, I will also admit that it was most likely not complete!) I slowly made my way up to the cross and knelt down. Immediately, another of the P31 team put her hands on me and quietly prayed for me. The tears continued to pour down, soaking my shirt. I clutched firmly to my paper and couldn’t seem to let go of it. Fear gripped my soul tightly and I heard the lies that I had listened to over the years repeated over and over. “Unworthy. Unaccepted. Rejected.” And then—silence.

Hope began to replace the fear, along with faith. I heard a gentle voice whisper deep within my spirit, “Child, lay it down.”

God answered the prayers lifted up on my behalf. Before I knew it, I had laid down my burdens at the foot of the cross; surrendering them to Christ Himself. Just as I brought my hand back, my prayer angel reached over, chose a Scripture verse for me and placed it in my hand.

It felt like a precious jewel in my hands. I carefully carried it back to our table and took a deep breath as I turned it over to read what it said. Before I even began to read the words, I noticed a word in all capitals behind the verse. It was exactly what God wanted me to know. In bold, blue letters it read “SECURE.” I let that settle in and permeate my spirit before I went on to read the actual verse: “Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders." (Deuteronomy 33:12)

It was a verse I had never read before, at least not in that translation. It spoke intimately to me because my name, Amy, means “beloved” and the Lord has used that name to assure me of His unfailing love for me over the past several years. As if that wasn’t enough, the rest of the verse mirrored the Psalm and verses in Isaiah that God had given me a short time before. More tears. God is SO good. The sweet blessings from my Heavenly Father continued to shower down upon me in ways I hadn’t even begun to realize I needed.

The lessons I learned that night went deep—when God wants to bless us, He usually calls us to lay something down. We may deny that we are carrying burdens, we may prefer to hold on to them, we may struggle with fear and doubt; but, in the end, when we finally lay them down, we are blessed beyond belief in the gifts and freedom He has in store for us.

That night, I repacked my suitcase and left a pile of things for the maids along with a note explaining that I wasn’t able to fit them in my suitcase and to please help themselves. Wouldn’t you know that those ten extra pounds were all items that I never used once. P31 gave us a conference notebook, both pairs of shoes were horribly uncomfortable (I actually returned them to the store once I carted them all the way back to Oregon!) and I ended up enjoying delicious meals provided by the hotel.

The next day, as I rolled by suitcase down to Tonya’s car, I felt confident that my suitcase was less than fifty pounds. More importantly, I enjoyed the new sense of being burden-free and joyful in the Lord’s magnificent blessings. While I wasn’t able to recognize the many burdens I was carrying before the weekend, I most certainly appreciated how incredible it felt not to be hauling around a lot of unnecessary excess.

And that, my Friend, is one the many delights of LIVING A BLESSED LIFE!


Tonya said...

You are a fabulous writer; you captured your experience so well!!! I'm so proud of you. This will make a wonderful magazine article!

You laid down many burdens that night, and I know God was so proud of you and continues to be. I'm proud of you, too!

Bless Your Heart!:)

XYXYmom (Tara) said...

Incredible! Beautiful! And I cried. I was there and experienced much of that with you and yet, I still cried. You are so gifted with the ability to evoke and explain emotion. I'm still trying to put words to that night. Your connection between physical and spiritual baggage is amazing.

I think we all feel we're "packing lighter" these days.

I so love ya, girl!

Truth4thejourney said...

What a beautiful post. I am deeply touched by the picture you've painted. How true! We usually don't even realize we are carrying the extra burdens until God lovingly, safely reveals them to us - and then washes them away with the Blood of the Lamb.

I, too was incredibly touched by GOd in unexpected ways on that night at the cross. I'm so glad we were there. Maybe next year we'll be able to meet in person.

Dawn said...

Amy, that was just beautiful and touched me deeply. As I think I posted to your before, I am struggling right now with different things, and I just love love reading your wonderful posts!!! You are a gift. It was just what I needed to read... I am so thankful God brought us "together!" I hope someday soon we will actually get to be "together" in the same room! ;-)

Charlene said...

Amy, you are so gifted. I love the way you write, so from the heart and so real. You draw me in until the last word.


Love ya!

Becki party of 5 said...

Finally catching up on blogs tonight, and Amy, yours is my favorite! You strengthen my faith with your words...thank you.
Love you so much,

HisFireFly said...

Amazing how we don't recognize how much we are weighed down until after we allow Him to reveal the burdens we need to release.
Sometimes I wish He would simply "take things" from me, but He desires us to give them up on our own.
Beautiful and inspiring words Amy!

Kathy said...

Hi Amy, thanks for stopping by my blog and I'm SO GLAD I stopped by yours. You have such a gift and I was truly blessed to vist.

Amy L Brooke said...

Thanks for sharing about She Speaks. I was there as well. Renee's talk was powerful. I pray that what you learned there will continue to grow in you.