Revive Our Hearts Podcast

"I Can't Do This!"

Leslie Basham: How would you handle it if you had to leave a nice home and live in a place with mud and rats in the kitchen? Here’s what Kim Wagner discovered when she faced that situation.

Kim Wagner: That kitchen became a place where I met with God, where in the morning, the Father would meet with me. He taught me so much in that kitchen; it became like a palace to me.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, September 16. Have you ever been in a situation where you just felt like you were in over your head, like you just couldn’t do what you were being asked to do? That was Kim Wagner when she moved into “The Flea House.” She’s reflecting with Nancy on our current series, Walking Through Life’s Deserts. Maria Johnson is also in on the conversation, as well as Holly Elliff.

Holly Elliff: We’ve all been through various types of deserts. They’re all probably a little different, but I know everybody in this room well enough to know we’ve all been through some things that would qualify as desert experiences.

Maria Johnson: I think the deserts change with your seasons of life a lot of times because of just what you’re going through. It will be a different type of desert for a widow than it is for a teenage daughter.

Holly: I know the very first time I met Kim, she was in the middle of a desert at that point. We just happened to sit down together at lunch, and she started telling me about her life. I can remember sitting there thinking, “Oh, my goodness.” The more she told me, the more I thought, “Lord, thank You, thank You that this is her life and not mine.”

Kim: I think that’s when we were living in what the children and I called “The Flea House.” My husband had resigned from a good pastorate. The day he resigned from that church, at that time I felt like, "This is the most horrible day of my life, and I don’t know if he’ll ever go into ministry again."

I knew that God had called us both into ministry, and I did not see any light at the end of the tunnel. I just saw that everything that I thought we’d been called to do, he was walking away from. Not for a moral issue. Not for an ethical issue. Just because he said he’d reached the point that in order to be a man of integrity, he needed to get alone with God. He needed to have revival in his own life.

Of course, we did not own a home. Most pastors live in parsonages. Through a series of events, we ended up staying in my uncle’s diesel mechanic shop that was no longer in business, but it was a place uninhabited that we could stay in for a while. When I first walked into that house, I remember it was a cold, cold February day. There were large holes in the floor, in the walls. It wasn’t a house either. It was a mechanic’s shop, but I was determined to turn this into a home.

I can remember scrubbing the floors with soapy water. The more I would scrub the floors and the walls, the muddier everything would get. It was just becoming mud. I remember I would sit there and scrub; and I would say, “Lord, I can’t do this. I can’t live here. I can’t do this.” I’d remind the Lord of the home I grew up in, which He knew. Then I would walk outside. I would take a deep breath and the Lord would send me back in here. “You can do this with My grace and My strength.”

That place, which the children called “The Flea House” because apparently some kind of animals had been living in the house (they had come in through the holes in the walls and floors, which we did repair), but there were fleas everywhere. I remember I would put white powder insecticide dust on the floor.

We had a game I would do with the children to test to see if we still had fleas. I would take a large sheet of white paper because fleas are attracted to white. I would throw it on the floor, and we would count how many more fleas would still jump on the white paper to know that we still had fleas.

The children love to tell the story about the day that the big rat showed up in the kitchen. I looked at that rat that morning as I walked in the kitchen. I said, “Stay right there.” I ran and got my husband’s pistol and shot that rat. The children still talk about it. I put it in a large glass jar—one of those large pickle jars. Stuffed it in it; put the lid on it, and left it on the front door step so that when my husband returned home he’d see the rat.

As bleak and as horrible as it seemed to be when I went into that kitchen, that kitchen became a place where I met with God, where in the morning the Father would meet with me. As the early morning streaks of sunlight would begin across the sky, I would have my Bible there, my journal; and He taught me so much in that kitchen. That kitchen became like a palace to me.

I remember telling the Lord there, “I never want to leave this place, this flea house, if I have to leave Your presence or leave our sweet fellowship that we have here in this kitchen.” So that desert time became like the Valley of Baca. It was like streams in the wilderness. It was like a river to me of refreshment even when I was in that desert place.

Holly: But it was because you got to God, even in the midst of all the stuff that was going on. You got to God and it became a precious place while you were still in the midst of it.

Kim: And He got to me. He got to me. I’ll never forget really what started that process. He showed me through the times of scrubbing and difficulty how much I had given in to self-pity and how I’d let things from my childhood, when I had been violated, how I had hung onto that bitterness and unforgiveness.

I will never forget the day He said, “You will never go any further with Me until you release this, until you forgive.” It was those steps that He began to take of peeling away bitterness, hurt, self-pity in order for Him to reach me.

Nancy: Why do you think you were better able to deal with those things there in that “Flea House”? Had you not seen them before? What was it about that desert?

Kim: I think the desert brings us to a greater place of dependency and of just crying out to Him saying, “I can’t do this.”

Holly: Really just desperation sometimes.

Kim: Desperation for God.

Maria: If I’m in the desert because I’ve sinned and God has convicted and I’m just suffering my consequences, I can accept that. If I’m in the desert because I sense God leading, like when I was called out of a public ministry to come home and home school my two youngest children. Day after day, hour after hour, you’re home alone with your children, and you’re not with the grownups anymore. You’re not getting the pats on the back. That’s a desert. Yet in my case, I knew I was exactly where God wanted me to be, and I had Scripture, confirmed by my husband.

But the hard deserts for me are when I’m drawn into the desert because of someone else’s choice, like you just said, your husband. That can be a husband’s choice or a child’s choice. Then you’re drawn into the desert because of their choices. Whether it’s being in open rebellion and you don’t know where they are and if they’re alive or dead, or if they’re young and not married and choose to have a child. They’re not married. I’m glad they had the child, but that’s hard. That affects everybody because of someone else’s choices. It’s a desert time.

That’s the hardest for me. What I do initially, I’m sorry to admit, is blame or be angry. “If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here. I did the right thing.” Like Joshua and Caleb. But that is one of the lessons I learned in one of those deserts was that they had done everything that they were supposed to do. They were faithful. They gave a good report. They did everything right.

You think of Joseph. He did everything right, and he’s thrown in the dungeon because of someone else’s lie and choice to lie. He stayed there an extended period of time because someone chose to forget him. Those deserts are hard for me.

But I too am learning that there is something about me that the Lord is wanting to show me, that I’m so blinded to it. So once I get past my initial wanting to blame whoever’s wrong choice—and usually they are wrong choices. In your case, you said it wasn’t. He just was following God’s leadership. But when you see someone making a wrong choice—it could be a boss, a husband, a child—and yet it affects you, that is hard.

Nancy: I’m thinking of a friend who is living in a desert right now because of a wrong choice that her husband made that has hugely affected their marriage. It’s affected their children. She has faced the choice herself in responding to this. "Am I going to blame my husband? Am I going to resent the impact this has had on my life and our children?"

Especially as a mom, you probably feel it for your children more than even for yourself when you see it affecting your teenage kids. But she’s had to come to realize—and she has—that I am here by God’s choosing. My husband may have sinned. He may have made wrong choices, but I’m in this desert. The ultimate Person who put me here is God and that means God’s grace is here for me in this desert and for my children and for my husband.

By receiving this as not ultimately her husband’s fault, but in a way—I don’t want to say God’s fault—but God is the One sovereignly overseeing the details and circumstances of her life. That’s giving her hope and grace that if God led her here, if God’s allowed her to come into this place, then God has hope for her there.

Kim: That’s what I love about Joseph’s perspective. I love in Genesis 50 when he’s confronted with his brothers and has the opportunity to lay blame or has the opportunity to be angry, but you know his heart for a long time has known that God designed this and he lets them know God did this that many might be saved.

Nancy: He said, “You meant it for evil.”

Kim: “You meant it for evil, but God turned it for good” (Genesis 50:20, paraphrased). I mean that’s the Romans 8:28 principle right there in Genesis 50. I love that. That was his perspective and that has to be our perspective in the desert as hard as it is to look above “The Flea House” or look above the child pregnant outside of marriage. To look above it and to look at the big picture that God does have a plan and although people make wrong choices and there are bad consequences, God is bigger than that. He is able to work out His plan ultimately.

Holly: Ultimately, that’s what makes the difference between a man like Joseph who walks through hardship for years. I think he was in prison—what, 17 years? Walks through hardship for years but comes out trusting that God is in control. Someone who chooses the opposite of that—and we all know women who have become hard and angry and bitter and resentful or leave their husbands and choose not to get to God in the midst of it—and I think that’s the bottom line.

Whether it’s a “Flea House” or a circumstance in your family or an illness or, as Nancy said earlier, all different types of things are part of our desert experiences, but the bottom line is, are we getting to God in the midst of those things? Do we recognize God’s hand in it?

Kim: Do we find fellowship in the suffering with Him? I shared with Nancy earlier. I just love—love—to go back and look at the life of Corrie and Betsie ten Boom every now and then.

Maria: Talk about a “Flea House.”

Kim: Talk about it. Yes, that’s what I’m saying. My suffering—I just can’t compare it. For the listeners that aren’t familiar them, I recently shared this story with my girls. Most of them had never heard the story of Corrie and Betsie ten Boom who in World War II were in a concentration camp (Ravensbrük).

In the midst of all of the horrific struggle that they had there—life-threatening struggle, (and Betsy eventually lost her life there), Betsie turned to Corrie one day. She said, “Corrie, when you leave this place, and you will, you must tell them—tell everyone that there is no pit so deep that Jesus is not deeper still.

That is so true. I mean at least I’ve seen that in my life. I’ve seen that in other people’s lives, that when we do turn to Him, there is that fellowship of sufferings. There must be that point where He is seeking us out, but we have to turn. We have to surrender to Him.

Holly: I think sometimes it’s so hard to realize and remember that there is a purpose in it. That it’s not just in vain. I’ve been studying Romans 5 in the last couple of weeks. I was just reading back through Romans 5, verse 3, where it says, “Not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5:3-5 NASB).

I think if we don’t get through that process where we walk through the tribulation to the point that we understand what perseverance is, that we get to the point ultimately of hope because God’s Spirit is being poured out through us. If we stop short in that process, then potentially we will end up angry and bitter because we miss the bottom line, that at the bottom of that pit Jesus is there.

Nancy: Of course, we want to get to the hope and the good product in our lives without going through the process of tribulation.

Holly: We want to get out of the process, mostly. We just don’t want to be in the process or maybe don’t want to be in the process as long as it takes to get to the end of it.

Maria: It’s like we forget the process is part of the plan. Our objective is to get out of this. Our objective is, yes, we want to be conformed to Christ’s image, but we want to be there now.

Holly: Well, I think, especially in America, we have been raised with a comfort mindset where if things are not going well or they’re tough or they’re difficult, we are very uncomfortable with that.

Kim: Comfort, instantaneous change and also easy three-step formulas to get there. When you were reading that in Romans 5, it so reminded me of in one of my most recent deserts, this verse in 1 Peter 5:10.

This is such a precious promise to me where he says, “After you have suffered for a little while the God of all grace who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself [then] perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (NASB).

It’s after you have suffered for a little while. We want to get to the end of that verse immediately, but we have to go through the suffering to get there.

Holly: I was thinking as Nancy was mentioning earlier about Christ being in the wilderness. She said then angels were ministering to Him. I thought, “Do you have to be in the middle of a wilderness to experience heavenly comfort?” The answer to that probably is yes.

Nancy: You certainly experience it in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise.

Holly: Again that thing of getting to God. Seeking it. I don’t know that we need it when we’re not in the midst of a crisis. We feel self-sufficient. How much of that do we miss because we take longer getting to God when it’s tough than we should?

Nancy: Holly, you talk a lot about “getting to God” in the midst of pressure, crisis. What does that look like? How do you do that? The mom who’s going through this pressure with the rebellious college-age kid or the wife who’s husband is not walking with the Lord. How do you get to God?

Holly: Well, I think it’s a little different for each person. For Kim, part of it was stepping out on her front porch and just breathing for a minute was part of realigning her thinking. But I think ultimately somewhere in there is involved the process of surrender, of recognizing that this thing is from God’s hand, of trusting God to be good even when nothing seems good, of persevering until you get to the point of understanding, because I think there are long periods of time when it doesn’t seem to make sense.

We went through about a ten-year period where literally every time the phone rang it was something worse—just on all sides of our life at that moment. It was a very tough time.

I really had had kind of a Pollyana mentality up to that point where I thought if I’m just obeying God and reading His Word and doing the right thing . . . I don’t know what I was doing with the whole chunk of Scripture that talks about persevering in tribulation and that we will have tribulation if we’re in the world, but I really thought I wouldn’t have to if I was just obedient to God.

It was such a shock in about my mid-30s when all of a sudden there were really tough things in my life that I didn’t initiate or choose, but they were there. I had to walk through the process of coming to grips with who God was in the midst of Him allowing things in my life that I didn’t choose.

I think at the beginning of that process in your life it’s hard because you’ve never done it before. I think when you’ve seen God prove Himself faithful over the course of several things like that maybe you’re a little quicker to recognize the hand of God in the midst of hurt or difficulty. So you surrender to it. You acknowledge who God is.

Then I think the thing of persevering and getting to God for hope means you can’t lay down your Bible. There were moments in those years where the only time I felt okay was when I was sitting in my den with my Bible open having time to stay in the Word. If I got away from that, the circumstances were so hard that I would think, “God, I don’t think I can live through this.” But if I was sitting in the presence of God in His Word, it gave me encouragement and hope and perspective that I had to have.

If somebody says to me, “Well, yes, I’m surrendering to this. I’m getting to God.” But they’re not in the Word. They’re not going to have what they need to be able to walk through that thing because that is the thing that brings us back to the point of truth.

Nancy: When you think of how God provided in the wilderness for the Israelites, He provided manna, water, protection, provision, His presence. All those things really are what we find in the presence of God and in the Word. That is our manna. That is our bread. That is our water. That’s what sustains us in the desert.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been talking with her friends Holly Elliff, Maria Johnson, and Kim Wagner. They’ve been honest about what it’s like to walk through desert experiences. If you’ve been walking through the desert, I hope you’ll take the advice we just heard and get into God’s Word.

If you need some help doing that, get a copy of Nancy’s booklet, “Promises to Live By.” It will take you through Scripture and remind you of the promises God has made about your life and future. When you make a donation of any size to Revive Our Hearts, ask for “Promises to Live By” along with our current series on CD.

The series is called Walking Through Life’s Deserts. It will give you solid hope when you need it the most. You set the gift amount, and we’ll send you these resources. Just call 1-800-569-5959, or look for this offer at ReviveOurHearts.com.

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If you’re in a difficult circumstance, does it always mean you’re being disciplined? We'll explore that question Monday on Revive Our Hearts.

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