2013 was the toughest year of my life.
After a 7-year battle with Lou Gherig’s disease, also known as ALS, I lost my mother to this wretched disease. I won’t lie; it was the most painful thing I’ve ever been through and there were days I didn’t think I could go on. My faith told me, “God will heal.” But my faith didn’t heal her. I felt responsible for her death. I thought, “maybe I didn’t pray enough,” or “maybe I didn’t encourage her enough in her faith.” I felt like I had done something wrong. I became depressed, but still clung to the Lord. I should also probably mention that at this time, I had a 1-year old daughter and two sons who were 3 and 5. I was homeschooling the 5-year-old because we were traveling back and forth to Alabama to visit my mother every few weeks. In addition to these stressors, we had scary situation occur with one of our extended family members who was living overseas. My husband’s brother lived in the Middle East with his wife and 3 young children and taught English as a Second Language. He was picked up by the “secret police” and kept in solitary confinement and interrogated ruthlessly and treated horribly by the country he loved so dearly. It was heartbreaking and we were uncertain of the outcome of his imprisonment.
During this time in my life I received a most precious gift. I joined a bible study group at my church in the fall of 2012 before Mom’s passing in February of the following year. I went for some grown up conversation initially, but it was so much more than grown up Bible study! These ladies quickly became my extended family. The leader’s home was full of peace and everyone was so welcoming to the messy, child-like young mom that came in as a new member. They prayed the most caring prayers for me on my very first day of group. I told them about Mom and how I was struggling. One of the most powerful times of prayer came during our bible study when I was able to stand and pray a bold prayer along with my sisters of faith for my brother in law. These ladies comforted me, encouraged me with Scripture, and prayed with me and for me. Their faith strengthened my faith and renewed my hope when it was weak. Our weekly meetings were an infusion of strength and peace during a very tumultuous time. The Lord heard and answered our prayers. Our family member was freed and they are now back in the US where they currently serve refugees and share Christ. My fear was turned into faith time and time again through the linking of arms with other sisters in Christ.
After the joy of answered prayer over my family member, I lost my mother. I didn’t want to go back to the group because I feared they might think I failed in some way. Or worse, that God had. I felt responsible for their faith. I remember my dear friend Marian holding my hand during the praise and worship time, infusing me with quiet reassurance that God saw me and loved me and cared for me. It was such a sweet time of peace whenever I was there. It helped me through the grieving process over the coming months and years. I learned their faith didn’t depend on mine, but on God. I wasn’t responsible for Mom’s death or her life. God loves our loved ones so much more than we do. My depression lifted and I began to feel hope and joy and God’s peace again. I found it such a blessing to have someone to share the load of grief I bore with my group. The heaviness lifted whenever I was there. As our group leader, Linda truly impacted my life in ways she’ll never know.
Linda later felt called into another area of leadership in our church and would no longer hold the bible study at her home. She felt the Lord wanted me to lead the group. I felt unqualified, but greatly desired to lead. The Lord so graciously provided Lea, a co-leader and future best friend and we led the group for another year. The group moved locations, but still felt like “home” whenever we met because the Spirit of the Lord was there. Our faith grew and we saw more miracles-babies given to women who were told they couldn’t have children, daughters restored from addictions, relationships and marriages healed by the power of God. Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” And the verse before it reads, “I also tell you this: if two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in Heaven will do it for you.” Could it be any clearer? God wants us in community with others so that they can be His hands, feet, heart, loving arms and on and on. As a Christian He lives and moves in us and loves when we work together to bring His Kingdom to places that need His touch.
May I encourage you to join a bible study or small group in your area? Or better yet, start one yourself! Hebrews 10:25 says, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near.” You have so much to offer other women. If you can talk you can encourage, build up, and strengthen another. When you give, you also receive a blessing from God. Our bible study was a place of learning and receiving from the Lord and one another. It was life giving. These ladies are still a part of my life and I love each of them dearly. I pray the Lord directs you to a group in order for you to receive and give encouragement in the body of Christ. If you already have this special group or tribe, love on them today and tell God thank you for this amazing gift.
About Julie Bratcher
Julie, an Alabama girl at heart, lives in the DFW area with her 3 kids and husband Ryan. A former elementary teacher, Julie has a passion to minister the heart of God to those around her. She loves to travel; her happy place is a good beach with a good book.