follow me: a testimony

Today it's been six years since what I now look back on as the moment I dropped my fishing nets and set off, empty-handed, in pursuit of the Man who said, "Follow Me."

Someone recently asked me to share this story, and the sixth anniversary of the day seemed like as good a time as any. It's the story of a terribly young, terribly afraid 18-year-old girl who dropped her whole familiar life to obey the summons of Christ and enter into discipleship with Him.

I had spent my entire life on the same piece of Eastern Washington ground until then. And I loved it. I put down deep roots there, roots like the lone ponderosa pine tree in the middle of the front hayfield—isolated, perhaps, but strong, beautiful, contented. This was my bubble, my world. I knew those ninety-two acres like the back of my hand and I explored them voraciously, with my horse, my sister, my bike, my camera, or my own two feet in a pair of rubber boots. I could forecast the weather by the feel of the wind or the look of the clouds around Mt. Adams; I could have drawn every hill and tree and shape on the western horizon from memory, having stared at those mountain sunsets for all of my life. I could tell you the season, even the exact month, by smell alone—smells of fresh apple skins in September, crisp yellow leaves in October, or frosty horse breath in November.


And there, I met Jesus at a very early age. I gladly walked with Him in blind childlike faith until at last He called out, "Follow Me" - and only then did it occur to me that I had a choice: I could stay with the familiar, mending my nets day in and day out, or I could drop it all and run after Him. It was a division in time, the parting of the Jordan, the choice to obey or disobey—to believe or not believe. It was then that I stood as face-to-face with Christ as perhaps I ever have, when He offered me a cross to bear in exchange for knowing Him more, when I stood in the TSA security line at PDX and made the final decision to fall hard and hope that faith would catch me.

I remember sitting aboard my flight from Portland to Denver early that morning, the morning of August 16, 2012 - so alone, trying to blink back tears so I could see Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Hood for as long as possible. Our ascent took us almost directly over Mt. Hood, so close that I could see every rock and glacier, every crack and crevice, even the paths across the snowfields heavily trodden by climbers’ crampons. It gave me flashbacks to my Mt. Adams climb just two weeks before, that long cold night of putting one foot in front of the other across the steep and seemingly endless snow-covered mountain face, watching the sunrise cast a mountain-shaped shadow over the western horizon and in awe that God made anything this big.


That long, slow, dogged-determination night must have been good practice, though, because while Florida was the flattest place I had ever seen, the mountain I saw looming ahead of me when my plane touched the runway in Orlando might as well have been Everest.

Alone. That word ran round and round in my head, taunting me, reminding me minute by minute of the three thousand miles of North American soil I had just put between myself and everything I knew, everyone I loved.

I settled into my dorm room at Great Commission Bible Institute, all my worldly goods taking up about two dresser drawers and a short hanging rod. I made my bed - top bunk, like I always had at home - and set my laptop on my desk. My new Bible, perfectly crisp and clean, was waiting for me in anticipation of my first day of class on Tuesday. I sent pictures to my mom so she could envision where I would be living for the next ten months of my life.

And I cried myself to sleep - that night and the next. (The only thing that stopped me the third night was my roommate's arrival from Pennsylvania, and I don't often cry in company.)


I will tell you that the year I invested at GCBI to learn the Bible from front to back is still one of the hardest years I've ever endured.

I will also tell you that it's still one of the best.

And the impact it had on me to obey the summons of Jesus and make the choice to truly become His disciple - even though I had already known Him almost all my life - is everlasting. Every day, my thoughts, my choices, my purposes, and my vision are what they are because of that decision.

I encountered my God that year. I grew and flourished in His character even while I was harshly pruned by His love. I learned how to study His Word on my own, with total confidence that I can know Him deeper every day through its contents. Because of this, I am still growing - still flourishing - still being pruned. And I am still bearing the fruit of it.

When Jesus says to you, "Follow Me" (and He will) - it is worth it to obey. Whatever the cost.

And once you do, He'll call you again - and again - and again, ever higher and deeper into His love, ever further into His story, ever closer to His heart.

But don't just take my word for it. The Bible is bursting with stories that proved this truth thousands of years before you or I ever breathed. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Ruth, Hannah, Samuel, David, Esther, Daniel - and I have not even begun to name the disciples who followed Jesus' literal call to lay down their nets and follow Him!

I thank God for inviting me to join Him on this hard, beautiful road six years ago. Along the way, He has showed me who He is, and who He is truly changes everything.

When Jesus says to you, "Follow Me" (and He will) - it is worth it to obey. Whatever the cost.

you are a God who sees

There's a saying: "Hurt people hurt people."

It's been on my mind lately. There is so much pain in this world and it seems to increase at an exponential rate, which makes sense - because every one of our wounds can be traced back to the hand of another wounded soul. Sometimes things hurt so much that the only accessible relief seems to be to turn and hurt somebody else, even if it's entirely unintentional. Even if we hate ourselves for doing it a moment later.

Hurt people hurt people.

Hurting fathers hurt their children. Hurting wives hurt their husbands. Hurting children hurt their families. Everywhere, pain breeds more pain, and one person's wounds can sink claws of destruction deep into the soul of a child many generations down the line, perpetuating a brokenness that has cracked us all down the middle since the fall of Adam.

It seems hopeless: I am broken, just like endless ancestors before me. And if I ever try to numb my pain, I'm doomed to break someone else in the process.

You are a God who sees: Sarai, Hagar, and how hurt people hurt people

There's a very broken woman in the pages of the Bible. Her name, at least when we meet her, is Sarai. We don't know much about how she grew up or what wounds she carried with her from childhood, but we do know that she was deeply scarred in her marriage and in her relationship with God. Her husband quite simply did not cherish her as much as he loved himself (Genesis 12:13). She was denied, too, the opportunity to love and be loved by a child (Genesis 11:30). She witnessed God's promise of a biological heir for her husband, but toward Sarai herself, God was silent (Genesis 15:4).

A deep, jagged wound left Sarai empty and aching in her area of most profound need. And she did what all hurting people do: she turned around, sucked in a shaking breath, and plunged her pain into someone else like a poisoned blade. She found half a moment of blessed relief, and in an instant another generation - no, another whole nation - was infected with destruction.

After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight. And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the Lord judge between you and me.” But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight.” So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence.
Genesis 16:3-6

Enter Hagar - another very broken woman, an Egyptian slave in Abram and Sarai's household. Hagar likely had nothing of her own in life, least of all a voice or any kind of power. She was entirely at the mercy of others, and when Sarai's pain became unbearable, Hagar received the abuse.

She was treated little better than a cow for breeding - violated to dull someone else's pain.

And she did what all hurting people do: she turned around, sucked in a shaking breath, and plunged her pain right back into her mistress like a poisoned blade.

This, to me, is one of the bleakest pictures in the Bible. Two broken people in heart-to-heart combat, each trying to destroy the other in hopes of forgetting her own desperate state for just an instant.

And I can look around at any relationship of any kind on this earth and see the very same image.

Is there any hope for healing? Any chance this sick cycle can ever be broken? Or should we just resign ourselves to hearing of another school shooting or another ugly divorce or another split church every passing day?

Well, the story doesn't end there.

Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?” And she said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” Then the angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.” Moreover, the angel of the Lord said to her, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.” The angel of the Lord said to her further,

“Behold, you are with child,
And you will bear a son;
And you shall call his name Ishmael,
Because the Lord has given heed to your affliction.
“He will be a wild donkey of a man,
His hand will be against everyone,
And everyone’s hand will be against him;
And he will live to the east of all his brothers.”

Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.

Genesis 16:7-14

There it is: Hope.

In the middle of this black picture, the angel of the Lord appears.

Hagar has been driven out, all the way to Shur - the middle of nowhere, wilderness of wilderness. She is desperately alone. But God says,

"Hagar." I know your name.

"Sarai's maid." I know who you are.

"Where have you come from and where are you going?"

What an incredible pair of questions for the God of the Universe to ask at that moment. He knows the answers - but does she? "Where have you come from?" It's about more than her journey from Abram and Sarai's dwelling in the land of Canaan to the back of beyond. God probes into the origin of the problem, the origin of the wound. Healing only comes when we all answer the question: Where have we come from? We have to dig out the roots of our actions, all the way down to the bedrock of brokenness they spring from. No healing can happen until we cease trying to medicate away our symptoms and reach instead for the rotting insides of the wound.

"And where are you going?" When we get down to the messy guts of our pain, God's plan is never to leave us wallowing in it. Healing only comes when we answer the question: Where are we going? Now that we've uncovered the real traumas, we have to cut out the rotting core and wash the wound clean. Now healing can happen until all the lies we have believed because of our wounds are completely eradicated and cleansed with the truth.

Hagar only answers the first question: "I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai." It's God who answers the second. "Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority." Go, but don't take the pain with you. Go, but don't keep stabbing others with your wounds. Go, but go in the healing of the truth.

And what is the truth?

You are a God who sees - Sarai, Hagar, and how hurt people hurt people

For Hagar, who has lived the life of a piece of property, the healing truth is that she is significant. She has a place in the world and a voice in history. God hears the cry of her heart and sees the pain she has endured.

She names her son, the father of one of the greatest nations on earth, Ishmael - "God hears." She names that spring of water where He appeared to her Beer-lahai-roi - "The well of the Living One who sees me."

That is the truth that breaks sin's sick cycle in our world. God hears. God sees. Our pain is not unnoticed by Him, and He doesn't want to leave us in it.

He's calling us by name and asking two questions: "Where have you come from and where are you going?" Because if we're going to stop being hurt people who hurt people, we need to know the answers.

I have loved

I have been wanting to post this for months, but have been too afraid - afraid of the pain I knew it would bring up, for myself and for others who have gone through it with me. But for me, writing is part of healing, and so I must write. Even when it hurts.

It was raining that night. How cliche, I thought at the time, that the same night the world would stop turning, the sky should be weeping.

I had spent that day sprawled awkwardly across some terribly uncomfortable padded chairs in a surgery waiting room while the seconds seemed to pass with horrific hesitation, as if they wanted at all costs to avoid advancing all the way to that dark, rainy moment in which everything would change. I was frustrated by them at the time. Now I wish they had tried harder.

I remember the ringtone, startling me out of my sleepiness while I was trying to listen to the Book of Job on audio. The mile marker glared green in the headlights - 54. Then the voice, in which I failed to read the shock - the stress - the pain.

So when he said it, I was not ready.

"Grandma B passed away."


I said it out loud into the phone, just like that, with a note of hysteria - I was not ready. Could never be ready.

 With Grandma B on our wedding day, four years ago.

With Grandma B on our wedding day, four years ago.

We still had almost an hour to drive in the pouring rain and the dark, and I remember I cried the whole way, though it seems odd to think of it now. Why did I cry, since I did not believe what I had heard? Why, for nights on end after that, did my whole body seem to heave with sobs when I knew it couldn't be true? Grandma B was simply home at her apartment in Goldendale, and I would see her the next time I visited.

But eventually, something shifted, and belief set in - and with belief came something worse than tears, worse than sadness.

It was anger - and fear.

I was so angry, not at her for leaving us, not even at God for taking her, but at the fact that someone who had only ever wanted to bring joy into the room had been forced to cause such pain. She wouldn't have wanted to do that. She would hate that we were all broken because of her.

And I was so afraid, for though I finally believed she had gone, I did not - I do not - believe she is dead. I know that the brilliant spirit of my Grandma B could not be quenched by something so feeble as death, but I feared, deep down in my clenched gut, that wherever she was, she wasn't okay. Was she in pain? Was she lonely? Was she afraid?

I just wanted to be able to call her on the phone and ask her if she was okay.

The denial and the sadness were hard, but the fear was excruciating. I had expected God to seem near when I walked through the Valley of the Shadow, but instead He seemed unreachable, just like Grandma B.

But He did not leave me alone.

There were nights when I asked Him to stand right beside me and hold my hand while I tried so hard to fall asleep, and He did. He touched my dreams with a beautiful vision of Grandma B's smiling face, a thousand times happier than even the happiest I'd ever seen her on earth, and I knew that she is okay. And one Sunday morning in church, some ten days after her funeral, while we sang the words "worthy is the Lamb who was slain," He showed me the heavenly throngs joining with us around the Throne - and she was there. In that moment, at last, I knew peace.

The days after that rainy night sank deeper into the darkness than I have ever been, for more reasons than one. Now that we've reached midsummer, I find myself spending hours of every day outside under the sun, as if to force myself to believe that life is growing lighter again, and that perhaps the world did not stop turning after all.

I am learning that grief is no five-step process - it's just a tangle of unpredictable emotions that ebb and flow. I am learning that my God can be trusted to hold my world in His hands, and to work in deep and invisible ways - even in the ways I least expect Him to. I am learning not to let myself keep up the pretense of being "fine" for too long, even though it's easier - because sometimes the healthier thing is to sit down and write; to open up the wound again for a cleaning, even though it requires me to relive the pain.

We will gather together for our family vacation this week. It will be the first one we spend without her, and it will be hard for us all.

Grief is the price of love, it has been said. And I think, in the end, it's a small price to pay for how I have loved - and been loved by - that extraordinary lady, my Grandma B.

Grief is not a five step process. It's a tangle of unpredictable emotions that ebb and flow. I am learning that my God can be trusted to hold my world in His hands, and to work in deep and invisible ways - even in the ways I least expect Him to.

Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.