This is the seventh post in Wendy’s and Anna’s joint blog series Breaking Light, a series in which people from around the world share of their deep valleys and God’s powerful Presence in them, of how He is using what was meant to harm us to bring abundant life.
Today, Debbie joins us with her story of surrender, grace, deep loss and the pursuit of Love. Read below for how you can go into the draw to win a copy of her beautiful book But the Greatest of these is Love. Last week’s book prize winner is MommyofSe7en (Heather). Wendy will be in touch to arrange postage of Just Show Up.
Anna: Thank you for joining us today, Debbie. Wendy and I are excited to share your (and God’s!) story here.
Of all the characters in the Bible, who do you most relate to and why?
Debbie: I think Moses’ protest sounds familiar. “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13) I’ve said that too.
But lately I feel like Paul. Before his ministry, he thought he knew God. As a Pharisee, Paul arrogantly thought he was doing the work of God, getting rid of those pesky Christians. Then, in a sudden revelation, he KNEW Jesus. My journey into deeper faith felt that sudden. That could only have been achieved by the work of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t go looking for it. My “Damascus Road” experience changed forever my intimacy with God. It was like the scales fell off my eyes.
And for all the efforts Paul made for the Kingdom, writing Letters to encourage the new Church, trying to make God known to others, his confessions sound a lot like mine.
“I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out, I don’t do the good I want, but the evil I hate is what I keep on doing.”
Paul mourns of a “thorn” in his flesh that he cannot be free of. God’s response? His Grace is sufficient. There will always be thorns, and God keeps reminding Paul, and me, how very much we need a Savior.
Anna: “Oh Debbie, yes, our need for Him is so much bigger than we often like to admit! What is one of your favorite Scriptures and why does it mean so much to you?
Matthew 16:24-25 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.'” NIV (bold and italics, mine.)
This is language we do not like to use.
Sixteen years ago, I half-heartedly participated in a small group study, Experiencing God. One morning while doing my homework, that verse jumped off the page at me. And it terrified me, because I instinctively knew God was going to demand something hard of me.
God loves us too much to leave us where we are. The world tells us to celebrate ourselves, and to love who we are, and we deserve the best. Jesus’ words, however, demand radical change. God doesn’t want to compete with anything; He wants ALL of us, especially the parts we cling to. For me, it was (and often still is) my god of Comfort. My easy life was put on the scales with my relationship with God.
This theme of surrender is Jesus’ most repeated theme in the Gospels. To name a few more with this mandate of dying to Self: Matthew 10:39, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, Luke 17:33, John 12:24. There are others. It must be very important.
One of my favorite writers is C.S. Lewis. I love how he shares his journey from intellectual disbelief to finally knowing the Truth of Christ. In Mere Christianity, Lewis has captured this concept of surrender this “dying to Self” beautifully, from Jesus’ point of view.
“Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self—in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.”
Anna: “Powerful truth in this, Debbie, isn’t there. Yes, it’s hard to take…but so freeing when we go down that road. Thank you for reminding us of this.
What events, circumstances or struggles in your life have been and/or continue to be your deepest valleys? And in what ways have you experienced God’s nearness in these valleys?
Debbie: My journey to deeper faith began in 2000, with a sudden, surprising invitation, a whisper from God which shattered my comfortable life. As I write this, I recognize this was a “death” so I could be born again. How could I say no to God and stay connected to Him? That lonely valley of trying to say no to God lasted a year and a half.
During that valley God revealed Himself to me in shocking and unmistakable ways. He came with that theme of dying to self I had recently read in Matthew. When presented with God’s plan, I was not so sure I wanted to be a disciple at all! God came making an seemingly impossible demand of me and I wanted Him to chose someone else. I endured a hard season of offering God suggestions of what I was willing to sacrifice in place of what He was asking me. But God would have none of my puny offers. He wanted all of me. He wanted my complete surrender. His command was that I must deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Him. But where He wanted to lead, I did not want to go. What invitation did God whisper to my unreceptive heart? Adoption.
It was a horrifying idea to me, as a happy wife and proud mother of three with a comfortable life. My life was perfect, too perfect to disrupt.
As the shocking theme of “adoption” morphed into an even more terrifying theme of “adoption of an older Russian boy,” I wrestled with God over His unlikely and unwelcomed proposal. This valley became a season of preparation, when God revealed Himself to me in ways that strengthened my faith, and set me on a path toward Him, one tiny step at a time.
In 2002, armed with a mustard-seed of faith, God led us to Russia to bring home beautiful, lively, seven-year-old Roma. It soon became apparent that this little boy, this gift I tried to reject, was an extravagant reward for my meager obedience. We congratulated ourselves for saving this precious little boy. We couldn’t know how God would transform our faith, using Roma.
In the next season of my life, my joy was complete. My family and friends had embraced little Roma from the beginning and watched him grow into a confident, charming young man. My faith was deep. And all was well in my world.
In 2013, I sensed God dramatically moving in my life again. This time God’s movement came with a premonition of suffering. Dread and a hyper awareness of God was my paradoxical response. I knew whatever was in my future, I must cling to God. I thanked Him that this time I trusted Him without reservation.
In 2014, my sweet, lovable Roma headed down a dark road of alcohol and marijuana abuse. But even in that valley, God was always close, and I experienced God’s grace in hair raising ways. And right before the challenges went into high gear, I was told in a dream to “write it all down.” (Read the Hound of Heaven Winks to begin that miraculous series of posts.)
Every challenged we faced, I thanked God for the premonitions He had given me, because I was not caught off guard by surprise. Each time I was thankful, because the consequences of Roma’s rebellion weren’t TOO terrible. I kept telling myself, “This could be so much worse.” I thanked God for protecting Roma and revealing Himself to many of us, including Roma, who were watching the God Stories unfold.
But the foreboding continued. Roma wandered away from our family again in the middle months of 2015. I was powerless to change him. I had to turn him over to God. My friends worried that I wasn’t worried. But if I truly believed what I claimed to believe, I wasn’t supposed to worry. I had put Roma in the loving and capable Hands of our Father God. “God loves Roma more than I do,” I would remind myself and others. But oh how I loved that boy! My peace was real, and those who doubted began to trust too.
Then, finally, in October of 2015, the Prodigal Son returned. He was repentant, he sought God and mercy. We spent time talking honestly about God. Roma had a hunger for Him that was brand new. He was a joy to be around again.
After seven joy filled weeks with our transformed son, on December 7, Roma died from a fall from a ladder. When the heartbreaking news came, I was not surprised. God had so lovingly and thoroughly warned me to be prepared. If God had warned me, He had known ahead of time. I had to believe Roma’s death was part of God’s Divine timing.
Anna: What an amazing story this is. I’d encourage our readers to also read your book and blog because there are even more of these amazing examples of God’s goodness through it all. I was SO encouraged in reading your book and then following what God was doing to reunite Roma with his birth sister and family.
Debbie: Yes, it was such joy sharing that series, which began with Hope for Restoration. The stories brought healing to so many of us, on both sides of the world. I think you began following my blog during that time.
Anna: Yes, I think it was around then I discovered your blog, after reading your book. In what ways have you seen God minister to others through your deep valleys?
Debbie: In that protective fog of the first days, I was showered with Divine Love. And miracles. The veil has been thin between Heaven and earth at times. As devastated as I was, and still am, I trust God. Heartsick friends and neighbors witnessed the peace we had. And the miracles. In the middle of our collective pain, we were in awe of God’s great love.
Although I think social media is Satan’s tool, God can use it to Good. On my sites, I tried to continue pointing people to God in our circumstances, because He was so real to me in that dark valley. Soon friends were listening intently or reading with eagerness, the stories I would share of God’s Nearness in the midst of our pain.
When our concerned friends rallied around us after Roma died, they saw that God had given us strength and sincere faith. I had faced the hard question, “Did I believe that God is really who He said He is. And did I believe Heaven was a real place. If so, I would miss Roma’s presence, but not despair over his absence. I would also have to celebrate that Roma was indeed free and with God in Heaven. I learned those first few days that God can be trusted. And, at least for some, my friends were comforted as I could confidently point to God with gratitude.
Anna: I have been touched to read along on your blog about God drawing near to you and your family through this. I especially loved reading about the pink roses you wrote about here: Pink Roses, Beauty for Ashes!
How have you seen God build community through your deepest valleys?
Debbie: Oh yes! Our loss was everyone’s loss. God sent Roma to not only my family but to the whole community, and beyond. God knew this honor of raising Roma was way too big for the Michael family alone. We would need helpers. LOTS of helpers! To aid in the recruitment of many helpers, God had armed young Roma with a BIG hearted personality, a sweet deposition, disarming smile, and fabled charisma. And oh, those sparkly green eyes.
Yes, the helpers came over the years. Neighbors, teachers, coaches, teammates, friends, mothers and fathers of friends. All assisted us in the joyful task of raising Roma. They loved this boy sent from God. Now they hearts were broken too. Roma had touched more lives in his brief twenty-one years than most people encounter in a lifetime!
Since Roma died, I have experienced true miracles. And I tell everyone who will listen or read. At first, I feared people would think I was crazy. But to not shine the Light that God had given me through Roma and his stories, would be failing to give Glory to God. God is not silent or still. I have wondered lately, since Roma died, is God becoming bolder in His actions, or am I suddenly hyper aware of Him. Whatever the case, I am thankful that something so redeeming has transpired after the excruciating loss of Roma. People are hungry for God Stories. I have had a huge jump in my readership. Even people who never knew my dear boy tell me they feel like they know him and have cried for his loss. And I guess that was the purpose of the book. Now he is a friend to all, and they are eager to read about him. God has not wasted my pain. He has redeemed it all.
Anna: It’s so beautiful reading this. I love how God showers us with love and strength through His Body.
What obstacles have stood in the way of the ministry God has called you to through the hard? And how have you responded to these obstacles?
Debbie: Lies of the enemy. At the beginning I was reluctant to continue to write my blog. “Who cares about Roma and your little stories now?” was a concern I had. But I had more stories to tell, I still do. God has giving me many stories to tell, and I will keep writing them down. More than a few readers have said that, according to my blog, there will be a second book. We’ll see. As long as God keeps giving me nudges and stories to tell, I will continue to write them down.
I remind myself that God is still good, and He sees the BIG picture and I do not. In the past six months since I said a temporary, earthly goodbye to Roma, I have never felt God closer.
Anna: I think a lot of our visiting bloggers will be able to empathize with facing those lies. What one piece of advice or kernel of wisdom would you like to leave with our readers from your journey through your hard thus far?
Debbie: Seek and you will find is another often repeated instruction in Scripture. I like to meditate on Jeremiah 29:12-14.
“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.”
God is trying to transform us into marvelous creatures like His son. He cannot accomplish this until we surrender ourselves to Him. We will not know Him better until we diligently seek after Him. Pray with expectation that He will be found.
Anna: Beautiful and encouraging words, Debbie. Thank you for opening your heart here with us. May God continue to hold you in the palm of His Mighty hand, using what was meant to harm you to continue to bring life to many in and through the power of Christ.
Comment on today’s or Friday’s post and go into the draw to win a copy of Debbie’s beautiful book But the Greatest of these is Love. You can read a description of the book below:
On a March evening in 2000, an unexpected and unsettling thought came out of nowhere, disrupting Debbie Michael’s comfortable life—adoption! It was neither her idea nor her desire to adopt; she was already the mother of three. Instinctively, she knew God was speaking to her, but she did not want to listen if His message required action as life-changing as adopting an orphan. Dread lingered in the aftermath of the disturbing suggestion, and a debilitating fog of uncertainty settled over her life. A journey of a thousand miles (or five thousand, in this case) might begin with a single step, but Debbie was not eager to take that first step. Though God was relentless, she remained adamant. She was determined to ignore the nudging. But God would not be ignored! God pried Debbie out of her comfortable existence and opened a door to a life she didn’t know existed. But the Greatest of These is Love is about much more than adoption. It is a story about the powerful and astonishing ways God uses ordinary people to accomplish His divine intention that we love one another.