Maya Angelou, American poet, memoirist and civil rights activist, penned a mighty and profound poem by this same title. In it, she speaks of what lived on the inside of her, which refused to be held down. The tone of her famous piece alludes to some of the oppression she faced – fierce and tortuous, to be brief. But it also shines with an unbreakable determination to overcome all that attempted to break and enslave her. The crescendo of her lyrical dance is found, for me at least, in the last stanza where she writes:
“Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
It speaks so poignantly of the reason I still rise – because I know there is within me something beyond my own desire and ability and strength. I am the culmination of the prayers and tears that have been sown by those who’ve gone before, by those who’ve fought for me to stand in this territory, and by the One Who has set me free so that others could be set free through the story and witness of my transformed life.
I didn’t intend to write about Maya Angelou’s poem today. The title of my post was drawn from a wreck I had over the weekend, and the reality that I could have seen my last day on earth. But I didn’t. I have lived to not only see another day, but to reflect upon the incredible hand that has – once again – pulled me out of the grave that opened its mouth wide for me.
I credit Maya Angelou with the title because she wrote it first, and it is appropriate to give honor where it’s due. Once upon a time, she inspired me with that poem, and though I fumbled in the darkness of a life without Jesus then, her words served as a light and a reminder that there was life beyond my tragedies. I am thankful for her witness, and for the powerful life she lived – not only for herself, but so that others could know something of the freedom she knew, too.
My thoughts today were rooted not just in surviving yet another harrowing event (there have been so many lately), but in what God has put within me which enables me to keep living and thriving – to keep overcoming such vicious storms with unfailing grace.
I was telling a dear friend who asked how I was doing – and who knows all the troubles I’ve seen lately – that I feel like the harder I get hit and the more I am threatened and the more I seem to “lose,” the stronger my confidence grows. It doesn’t make sense, in human wisdom. But in Heavenly wisdom, it makes perfect sense. It is the story of the Resurrection life. The one who loses her life gains it. The one who clings to it loses it.
We can read Scriptures like that (Matthew 10:39) and theorize them. We can imagine what it means hypothetically and spiritually, and hope that’s all we will ever have to know. But when all you have and all you are is put through the fire, and you have no choice but to let it go, and hope and pray that what He said is really true in a physical and emotional sense, too – that’s where the unstoppable power to rise is born.
I am finding an incredible joy in the painful processes of being buried in the soil of circumstances that come to crush me, because – by the sheer force of the Spirit that lives within me – the deeper I am buried, the more determined I become to rise. Not for my own sake – I have nothing to fight with or for on my own. But somehow, surrendering trust and walking through these death valleys is producing in me exactly what God said it would: an endurance that won’t quit.
My desire lately has been to be a garden for the Lord. I want my life, my heart, to be a place where He loves to dwell, and to sit with me. As I endure through the chaos and difficult situations I have in front of me, He is turning me into just that. What’s rising in me as He tends to my broken and imperfect life is a face that is always turned toward Him, like a sunflower seeking the light, reaching toward its sustaining source, refusing to be trampled down. I know He loves what He sees in me, because it brings Him glory, and because He is the reason I am alive and still rising.
Dear Woman of Breakthrough, I want to encourage you today that there is nothing God can’t turn around and use for your good (Romans 8:28). Whether you are facing oppression, tragic circumstances, or a past that is embittered by bondage, He desires to help you rise, again and again. We are not promised a trouble-free life here. In fact, we are promised the opposite. We will have trouble – some of us more than others. But God can use that trouble to lead you into the life He has promised – the one that can’t be held down. Rather than being discouraged or depressed, we can let go of it all and let His Spirit lead us into a rising we could never muster in our own strength.
I pray you find hope in this promise. When you can’t control the things that happen to you and around you, and you don’t know where to turn for help, God is there. And He is there with a plan and a purpose for all of your pain and suffering. He wants to turn your tragedies into the soil from which you will rise victorious and shining. He wants to turn your graves into a garden that He can take great delight in, where your heart will find its resting place and your sorrows will be turned to joy that dances over every memory of pain.
Rise, Beloved One. Rise, because you were raised to life in Christ, and He is all you need to overcome and break through it all.