An Altar

6:40 a.m. and I’ve been a wake for an hour already with thoughts rolling around in my head. I should be sleeping. No kids. Weekend away with my honey. Celebrating Papa’s faithfulness to us. It’s quiet. A preciousness in that word. It’s quiet. My soul is quiet.

Three weeks ago, my feet walked this same retreat center as the women of our church converged here for a time away with the Lord. 20 years before that my betrothed and I received vision for our future marriage on these grounds. The land here is indeed rich with deposits of Papa’s goodness, which is why we returned now.

I am referring to God a lot more as Papa after that women’s retreat. I didn’t have expectation for myself coming into the retreat, because I had a job to do. It was my responsibility to prepare a place for Him to meet with these precious ones, to host His presence in our prayer rooms.

As I sat in the first session, I felt squirmy as I heard the whisper in my head, “You are afraid of intimacy with me and others.” “Well, yeah!” I thought, “of course I do.” “I don’t even know how you can fix this one.” I felt a bubble of anger inside of me try to rise, and I desperately just wanted to push it back down. Then, the speaker, whose story I’ve come to know through friendship, unfolded a place of her own pain, where Papa had met her. She had felt ashamed at first, then embraced. It should have comforted me. Instead I felt kicked in the gut, hard! I began feeling lightheaded, panicky. I wanted to run. Not here. Not now. Not surrounded by all these women. How can you heal this wound?! The bubble was beginning to burst, and all I could see was ugly coming out.

He asked me to come and just lay this down by faith and give Him this fear of intimacy. So, with a pure act of obedience I wrote it down on a slip of paper and jammed in it a jar filled with what others were laying at His feet. Sisters could see my obvious pain and offered comfort. My emotions soothed some.

That night sleep eluded me. I fought and I was losing. As the morning broke, I heard in my heart, “Today, you will build me an altar.” I hate altars. He knows that.

In my experience, altars are where indescribable suffering happens, shameful acts happen, spits of hatred happen, prideful power displays are executed on altars. That was my framework for altars. “Why me, to build You an altar?! That seems very mean of You, Father…who I am supposed to somehow trust!”

I was venting as I walked and He reminded me of a childhood “altar” experience. He reminded me of where Jesus was during the experience, and then He showed me where Papa was. I knew Papa had been there weeping over this broken little girl, trying to hold her quaking body, lifting her up and embracing her, breathing life back into her.  That memory felt  distant. And my heart was still somewhat jaded. I walked on.

During worship, I had an image come to my imagination. In the imagined scene, I knelt bloody knuckled, exhausted lifting stones and placing them together to form this altar. Just as my strength failed me, Jesus smiling walked up whistling a tune. He asked gently, “Can I help you build this, sweetheart?” “Yes, please,” spilled from my lips. As He did, my burden also lifted.

I asked Him, “What are the stones?” “Your memories,” He frankly replied. “What must I sacrifice?” “Praise,” he said. Praise. I must sacrifice praise. Praise for all the times He has met me, praise for all the times he has wept with me, holding me. All the times, He showed me His wounds in His hands proving it was really Him.

That afternoon, I found myself sitting on a flat rock table, much like another stone table found in the Narnia stories. A song of praise softly lifted from my lips as I thanked my Papa for never leaving me. I thanked Jesus for healing my broken heart, and to the best of my ability I laid down the fear of intimacy. As I walked away lighter, I heard the whisper again, “Now I will bring the fire.”

That night as this diverse family of daughters worshipped, we formed a line that led us through a tunnel of our leadership team who prayed over us. As our pastor’s wife leaned into my ear to bless me, she said, “Father wants to tell you thank you.” My mind was completely blank. “I don’t understand,” I muttered back. “Just like God would have saved Sodom and Gomorrah for 10 righteous, there is about ten percent of the bride of Christ that is faithful. You are a part of that ten percent.” As the words reached my ears, I doubled over with a groan. Then it was as if I was blown by a Holy Spirit wind to the end of the line where I collapsed on the floor.

Even in Sodom and Gomorrah, I was faithful? How could that be? I certainly didn’t see it that way. I had seen myself as sinful, blackened by it. As I lay there completely clear headed, I shook as the word, “pure” washed over me continually. That night I slept as if on a cloud held up by angels.

The next morning I awoke at a familiar time 4:43. I had been waking up at this time for weeks. I felt prompted to look up the numbers. 4 meant door. 43 meant contending for a new level of authority. As I fully gained my senses, the voice came again, “I am going to seal this with a kiss.” Later at the final session of the weekend, the speaker that morning, began with the first words, “Papa wants to seal this with a kiss.” And He did.

The last three weeks have been filled with hot tears, wrestling questions, and sweet cuddles. “No more fear of the cuddle. The cuddle is safe now.” So, as I cuddle next to the man I love this weekend celebrating, I also cuddle up to my Papa who embraces me.

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