He rises from the table and walks toward me. I rise too and He takes my arm. In this moment, I know that I have a choice. I do not have to go with Him, but if I do not, He will go on Himself and I will no longer be with Him. I know there is something He wants to show me, to talk with me about and I do not want to miss it. I think He would be willing to let me stay in the house while He walks, but I did not want to miss a moment of His presence. I am a bit afraid because I know, deep within, that He will correct me for what I said, but my desire to be with Him overcomes my fear. I follow as He leads me outside, through the back door of the house.
We enter into a breathtaking forest-garden! My view is filled with old hardwood trees, grown tall and full, leaving a dappled shade below. The trees are spaced so there are spots of full sun. In those places thick, full bushes heavy with flowers fill the sunlight. The air is touched with the fragrance of the flowers.
The sun is warm, but the shade makes it comfortable and a light breeze blows through the garden. It is truly more beautiful than any place I had ever seen before. The peace of this place is tangible, filling the air with a softness, like the caress of a soft blanket.
We walk together for a long time in the garden. He shows me many places and sights. Throughout our walk, though, He really does not say much. I speak little as well, fearing that I will again say something wrong. I know though that He is still displeased or hurt, I really am not certain which one. I can feel that He wants to speak with me about it, but it is as if He is looking for the right place, or perhaps the right moment for it.
I grow anxious in anticipation, I find myself afraid of what Him might say or do. It seems like I have always been afraid of everything and certainly of Him. I have always been deeply afraid of His wrath, after all I had been taught to fear Him. It grows more difficult for me to stay with Him, at His side.
He sees this and pauses in His walk. He turns to look at me; I cannot see His face, but I know He sees me. His voice is kind, understanding as He says, "Trust Me. Come, walk with Me."
A large part of me wants to run away, but His voice, His gentleness is compelling. Finally, I whisper, "I will go with you." I think I am telling myself more than I am telling Him.
We continue to walk a bit further. He comes to a stop in a quiet grove. The grove is a clearing in the trees with a single, magnificent magnolia tree growing in the center of it. The tree is stunning! Its branches begin low to the ground, the lowest about waist high to me. Beneath that lowest branch, there is a niche in the trunk, a place to hide perhaps? The bark is smooth and leaves deeply green. I can see flowers and even a few seed pods with their bright red seeds becoming ripe. A slight distance from the tree there is a waterfall flowing from a low hill, feeding a gentle stream that meanders around the garden, forming small pools as it turns about the grounds.
There is something remarkable about this place. Clearly, this has been the destination He has had in mind. I am confused, this place is too beautiful, not what I have expected. Together we walk to the tree, rest upon the lowest branch. Abruptly I realize though, this is a place of correction, that indeed is His purpose.
He begins to correct me. The correction comes not with blows, but with revelations. It is as if He is taking the blinders from my eyes and showing me my own sin as He sees it. It is deep and it is awful. The pain I feel in the seeing of it all is as real as if there were blows behind it.
He begins to deal with my issues of rejection, showing me the judgments I have made for the rejections I have perceived. He shows me the vows and expectations that I have formed in response to the rejection. I see how I have begun to hate those who rejected me and how I even have hated those I have perceived to be accepted by others. Worse still, my sinful nature has risen up so now I subtly reject others before they are in a position to reject me, committing in myself the very sin I have judged others for! I so assume rejection that I make sure it happens!
The picture is so clear-I don't understand why I have never before seen or understood it! My sin is so clear to me--it horrifies me! The pain of the revelation runs deep and I cannot help but cry and cry out. I want to run, to stop looking at it, to deny its reality again. But a small, not very strong part of me holds me back. I am shocked to hear myself whisper, "I will remain until You are finished."
He continues to show me how what I thought myself to be victim of is in fact the fruit of my own sin! The roots run deep, deeper than I understood, to the very basic way I see and understand the world. I am so overwhelmed by the revelation of my own sin there are no words I can speak.
Finally, though I do know the words! I know the only response I can have! "I repent! I repent!" I cry," I'm sorry-I never know that what all this was! I repent for the judgments and vows! Lord, break down these structures and rebuild my heart!"
He is finished. I know it has not taken a long time, but it feels as though it has. The pain is overwhelming and all I can do is cry. I find that I am hiding in the niche beneath the branch of the tree. I feel filthy, covered in sin.
He is there though, calling out to me. "Come to Me."
I cannot! I am covered in filth! How can He bear my presence? I push myself farther back to hide from Him, weeping. The same part of me that decided to stay longs to be with Him again and pushes me to go to Him. It is not strong enough though and I remain in my hiding place, weeping and hiding my face in my hands.
"Come." He calls again. This time, though, His voice is near. I look up from my hands and see Him. He reaches to me and draws me out. "I have never left you- never turned away from you." He reminds me. I hid from Him, but He remained, waiting for me, looking for me. He takes me arm again, "Come walk with me."
How can He bear to touch me! I do not understand. I want to ask Him where we are going, but I do not. Heaviness covers me, my chest aches from crying and my shoulders ache from the weight of my sin.
He leads me to the stream, the water is clear and deeper than I had realized. We walk into the water and He walks with me upstream to the waterfall. The water is cool, but not cold. He leads me to the base of the waterfall. "Wash in this." He instructs.
I see now, this is a place of forgiveness. I stand under the waterfall for a long time, letting the water rush down over me, soothing the ache of my heart. Finally I step out of the falls and He shows me the stains that are being carried away on the water. I look down and see that I am clean. It is a physical relief for me, I feel a weight release from me.
He takes my arm again. "Walk with Me."
I cannot quite tell whether it is an invitation or an instruction. I am fearful, but follow Him. I cannot bring myself to ask where we are going.
He leads me to a quiet, warm pool and guides me to sit beside Him, just to be in His presence. I find that I want to talk, though, about where we have just been and what has just happened.
"Shhhh." He says. "That is past, rest now with Me."
I am honestly surprised that He does not seek to talk about what has just happened. I had expected Him to go over it again and again, perhaps taking time to criticize or find further fault. Isn't that the way it always goes? I do not understand.
The garden though is beautiful and peaceful. My stain is gone now and I find that I can rest. He must know best, now is not the time. There will be time for all that later.