I’m Alisha Ballenger, Elementary Children’s Ministry Director at Cedar Springs, and this is how I’m living deeply.
“2020 was a hard year for everyone. It was a year full of tragedy for me personally. I found out at the end of July that my dad had been shot. When we reached the hospital we learned he had passed away. That was followed by the death of one of my husband’s employees in September, then the death of a friend in October. All of this grief -along with all the COVID craziness here on staff at Cedar Springs, and my kids being in school, quarantining off and on- had pushed me into a season of discouragement. The staff and friends here at Cedar Springs were so loving and encouraging, but it was all still really hard. We have this wonderful staff tradition of having a day of prayer twice a year where we just listen to God and pray. In February of 2021, [local Bible teacher and author] Jim Branch came to lead us, and I felt really frustrated and even angry with God. There were several bad things that had happened the weeks leading up to the day of prayer involving trying to sell my mom’s house. To say I was upset was a huge understatement. I felt like God didn’t see me or hear me. I actually left the day of prayer early because I just felt like I couldn’t pray.
Fast forward to September 28, 2021, and it was time for our staff day of prayer. Jim was again invited to speak to us and give us some direction about our day. I wasn’t expecting anything. My heart and mind were distracted. Jim said, ‘I really feel like the Holy Spirit wants us to focus on Numbers 6:22-27.’ I was like, ‘Wait, what? There is no way!’ This is the verse we put on my dad’s gravestone. At first it was just a bit of shock. Then He played the song “The Blessing”- I just started crying so hard, and I’m not a crier. I felt God’s presence in a very deep way as I was thinking over and over, ‘This is the verse on Dad’s gravestone.’ When the song ended, I stood and shared with tears streaming down my face what had just happened- that Jim didn’t know my story and he sure didn’t know that this was the exact verse on my dad’s gravestone. God came and met me in a very real way when I wasn’t looking for it or expecting it. It was an amazing reminder that I’m not alone in my grief. God sees me. The verse says, “The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.” It’s one thing to know that God is there, it’s another thing to FEEL in a very real and personal way that God sees you and knows you. I’m in ministry, yet God surprised me and revealed that he is Trustworthy- that no matter what I’m going through He hasn’t forgotten about me. I went away from that day feeling like I want to go and grab everyone and look them in the eyes and remind them, ‘The God of the Universe sees you and He wants to know you.’ Here is my prayer over whoever reads this. It is, of course, from Numbers 6:22-27: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”