I write this post today from a position of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, as well as with a heart that is deeply saddened. We had just ended our four-day retreat for Christian female military veterans and were having an assessment meeting when we got the news of the shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX. It is difficult to express the sense that the intense victories we had experienced over the Enemy this weekend were tarnished for just a moment by this profound evil.
You see, that little church is only about 45 minutes from where I live, and Mark and I have visited that church to hear a friend preach. This was too close to home and personal. But it only took a moment for us in Leadership to declare that Evil will never overcome the Light... the Light of Jesus will continue to shine even during the darkest of times. And I do not want this tragedy to overshadow the life-giving work done by our Savior at the retreat. So, let me share those thoughts, and I will make a final comment on the tragedy at the end of this post.
It was such a blessing to have been invited to this retreat, and from the beginning, the devil tried to interfere. Several of the female veterans tried to cancel at the last minute, but with encouragement on our part, and courage on theirs, they took a leap of faith and boarded those planes, coming from California, Arizona, Washington D.C., and North Carolina. There were some disappointments ... one Seeker had car trouble and missed her flight and decided to return to her home. We pray that God will arrange another opportunity. And at first, we fought disillusionment that the number of women we were expecting dropped off by half, to where we only had six women show up. But God knew what He was doing!
And as with any first-time event, there were rough patches, but we had the advantage of learning from the nine male veteran retreats that preceded ours. At first, we fought schedule interruptions, but decided that everything would be on God's timing and under the Holy Spirit's direction. Once we let go of that concern, we were ready to see what God had in store for these women.
I do not want to betray any confidences, but I will tell you that, as expected, it was a spiritual battle from beginning to end. The devil tried to throw personality conflicts at us; spirits of rebellion and pride and divisiveness; and an occasional physical trauma. But we knew our authority and the power of our Lord to overcome any opposition from our spiritual enemies. Every time we were confronted with an obstacle, we fought back by praying against the spirits, praying for God's will to be done in a particular situation, and laying on of hands to correct sudden and severe back pain, bodies that were out of alignment, and lengthening legs where one was shorter than the other. We were not going to give up ground when Jesus wanted to set these women free!
And how precious these women were! Each one had her own particular beauty and strengths. But also, you could see the battle going on inside them. At the risk of being politically incorrect -- and in no way, is it my intention to insult or condemn the brave service of these women to our country -- but I cannot imagine how women go to war and DO NOT come home with some sort of trauma, whether physical, emotional or spiritual. And some of these women are married to men who are, or were, in the military, too. So add that combustible element to the mix, and you could see the pain in their eyes.
But Jesus wanted them free! Slowly, hour by hour, and day by day, we saw them begin to let down their guard as they trusted us. The female vets who were on the Leadership Team shared their testimonies, pointing the way to each woman's significance in the Kingdom; the absolute need to forgive; the importance of prayer and how to pray; what Christian action and Discipleship looks like; how we can identify with the Prodigal son; the value of perseverance; and then left them with a Battle Plan to keep the freedom they received during the retreat.
And let me tell you ... when you hear the life stories of the Leadership, which encompassed abusive husbands, rape, abortion, molestation, promiscuity, adultery, alcoholism, etc., it broke your heart to know that your Sisters in Christ had endured such pain in their lives. But, oh the redemption! They shared how Jesus freed them from shame, guilt, blame, unforgiveness, feeling lost and without hope, and then set them upon a journey to grow into the clean, purified, blameless, and strong women that stood before us. Let's just say, a lot of kleenex was handed out during those four days.
But these veteran Leaders spoke Truth and Hope into the lives of the younger veterans. They declared that they were washed clean by the power of Jesus's blood and they had new identities and new names ... a child of God; the daughter of the King; and the Bride of Christ. Slowly, we saw eyes begin to shine, heads held higher, and they began seeing Jesus as the solution to their trauma and their issues. We watched them begin to open up, and through their Leader's testimonies they received evidence that it is ALWAYS Jesus's desire to redeem lives... but you have to seek Him, confess the sins in your life, ask for His forgiveness, and then receive the overflowing abundance of His love and the freedom He offers.
Women who had arrived with wariness and distrust left with confidence that their demons (both literal and figurative) had been defeated. There were late nights filled with hearing their stories, and afternoons spent in the presence of the Lord, as all those painful wounds were healed. As part of Leadership, I got about 4 hours of sleep each night, as we prayed for the Holy Spirit to reveal the blockage in their spirits, and discussed how to partner with Jesus to see them set free. And always ... always .... the answer was to point them to Jesus to receive their answers and strategy. In the end, with each of those six Seekers, and several of the Leadership team, there was a relationship with Jesus that had been forged through tears, confession, and surrender. Spirits were lighter and hearts were cleansed.
The final day, we had a closing ceremony and the local community came to celebrate with our Seekers. They were invited to come and answer two questions before the public ... What did you get out of this retreat? And what are you going to do with it? Leadership sat there holding their breath. Were our efforts to encourage a relationship with Jesus enough to make a difference in their lives? Would anyone feel their experience was so transforming that they wanted to share it with the people in attendance? And finally, would they keep Jesus to themselves or share Him when they returned home?
Imagine our surprise when two of the quietest and most shy of the six got up to declare that Jesus had set them free and they were going to go back home and encourage other female vets to come to this retreat. There were tears from the podium, in the audience, and from the Leadership team. Thank you, Jesus! We had grown to love these women and now we were sending them out into the world to resume their lives, and all we could do is pray they keep their freedom. We had done the best we could to point them to Jesus; we had overcome Satan's fiery darts; and now the inaugural female veteran retreat was over. The Enemy was defeated!
That sense of victory was literally maybe 15 minutes old, when we started getting the text messages about Sutherland Springs. What we initially felt was a safe place was now a target. i remembered my husband asking me if I was going to take my handgun with me (I am licensed to carry, and highly trained). I said, "I'm going to a retreat for Christian female veterans at a secluded retreat center. I'll be fine". I felt there was no threat... until there was. We would have been a perfect target. The Director of the retreat and I drove three of the Seekers to Houston to the airport -- a seven hour round trip -- in a church van, and I can tell you, we felt vulnerable.
But it didn't take me long to declare this attack is because the devil is getting scared. He sees small pockets of the Remnant becoming stronger in our ability to fight in this spiritual battle, and he must ramp up his opposition. He is fighting back because we are winning! This retreat was about bringing the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit to the forefront of these women's lives, but it was equally a testament to fighting in the spirit, applying the blood of Jesus to strongholds and powers of darkness, and developing spiritual battle plans to overcome the Enemy and take back spiritual territory.
As extremely sad as the Sutherland Springs tragedy is, we can rejoice that God knew that very morning that those 26 spirits would be returning home. He has known since the foundation of time. We can rejoice that Satan and all his demons know they are going to lose this battle! They see us rising up in spiritual warfare, and they know we are gaining valuable revelation from Heaven as to how to fight in the spiritual realms. He is angry because we are winning and we are not going to stop!
So, I ask you to pray for continued revelation; that more people will join us in spiritual warfare; and that the Heavenly host will come down to protect us from any more of these tragic displays of evil. Bless the spirits of those killed, and the families who must now arrange for 26 funerals. Father God, give us the strength to mount up for battle, while remaining in Your mercy and grace. We are ready to follow you into battle, Jehovah Nissi! We know the battle is Yours, and we are neither afraid nor dismayed. We know that You will deliver our enemies into our hands. Praise You!
2 Corinthians 4:8-9 We are pressured in every way [hedged in], but not crushed; perplexed [unsure of finding a way out], but not driven to despair; hunted down and persecuted, but not deserted [to stand alone]; struck down, but never destroyed;