Fear. The kind of fear that sends you straight to the feet of Jesus and even there you can feel its grip. Fear that allows you to read fifteen chapters of Job without thinking to take a break. Fear in the heart of a girl who generally isn't fearful. And before you send the verses I already know them..."perfect love casts out fear", "fear not for I am with thee, be not dismayed", etc. I also know Job 1:12, Job 2:6, and 1 Peter 5:8. It's just like teaching. You don't give the hardest tests first. They get harder as you go.
I've had some difficult tests. Most of the really hard ones have been in the last couple of years. I know the God who promises to never leave us, for I have felt Him when I thought I was alone. I know the Perfect Love personally, for it has cast away my fear and allowed me to walk in paths I could not have walked alone. And my favorite verse is Isaiah 41:10, "Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." I know Him. I know His love, His strength, and His power.
But I also know 1 Peter 5:8, Job 1:12, and Job 2:6. I know the God who tests us with fiery trials, for I have felt the heat from the fire many times. I know the God who sometimes stays His hand and allows the storm to come in all its fury. I have felt the flame of refining fire, and I have grown to know more and more about my Creator and His love for me. Yet I also know the tests must grow more difficult in order to continue to grow me...and therein lies the fear.
I asked an old friend to pray for me a couple of weeks ago because I knew that I was getting ready to embark on a journey that God had called me to, and that Satan intended to keep me from finishing. It has many facets, some in the near future, and some that seem so very far away and impossible to reach. Some I have dreamed for myself. Some I dare not hardly speak above a whisper because they are from Someone higher than I. The problem is that Satan doesn't like any of them, big or small.
I have grown to learn a lot about who God is. I have also learned a lot about Satan. Our world gets caught up in movies and books that tell them that Heaven is for real. Yes, Heaven is for real....so is Hell. We love that God knows us intimately and knows our every thought and the desires of heart. We don't stop to realize that Satan knows us intimately too. He does his homework. He studies for your test. Not to help you pass, but to ensure your failure.
I have heard the voice of God in a dream. I will never forget it. It was the most amazing feeling, even though I didn't begin to understand at the time just what it was that He was saying. But last night I heard another voice. A voice that instilled fear, and brought out every Bible verse I could draw on in immediate succession. "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts otf wickedness in the heavenly places." Ephesians 6:12 NKJV. I've read that verse at least one hundred times, but never have I felt the presence otf the battle as I did last night. Never have I been so afraid. But they were hidden on my heart. "When I am afraid I will trust in thee." "Perfect Love casteth out fear." "Fear not, for I am with thee." "You will not need to fight this battle, stand still..." And "though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death' because He is with me.
I see a journey that I am beckoned to continue on, but I see the battlefields that lie in wait on the path. There is a place where battles move beyond finances and problems at work. There is a place where the weapons of choice change from daggers and arrows to heavy artillery. I have reached that place. It would be easy to quit. It would be easy to tell God that I am tired, and that I am afraid that one day there will be a test that I will fail, even with Him standing there. I could tell Him that my armor is so cracked and battered from the more recent waves of battle, that I fear that it cannot withstand the weaponry that is sure to come. But it is pointless. It is pointless because I have tested Him and found Him faithful. How can I tell Him what I cannot do so long as He is by my side? And so I go on not knowing. I would not if I might. I would rather walk in the dark with God than to go alone in the light.
For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14 NKJV
I will never forget his face. This little dark haired boy looking out the driver's side window of his family's van, yelling at me as loud as he could. "I just saw the Baby Jesus!", he yelled. "He's on the other side of the church and the angels and shepherds are there too. Hurry! Go look!" In that little boy's face, I saw the culmination of hours of work, and most importantly I saw Christmas through his eyes. To this little boy the story of Christmas was happening before his very eyes. He has just witnessed Gabriel appearing to Mary. He had seen Joseph and Mary seeking a room at the inn. He has passed the shepherds with their sheep, and had seen the angels hovering over them proclaiming the birth of a King. He had seen the Baby Jesus in swaddling clothes being held in His mother's arms. That night this little boy, who couldn't be more than four, had witnessed the birth of his Savior. It doesn't get much better than that.
I had been raised in a Baptist family who firmly believed in Paul's writings of what a woman's place was in church. I understood it, and planned to marry a Christian man who would be active in church and allow me to play a supportive role as his partner. There was just one problem...I always wanted to be an Esther. I would read the entire book over and over. "For such a time as this." I wanted that. I wanted the God who created the universe to give me a mission. I wanted Him to choose me to do something for His Kingdom. I wanted Him to use me to reach people...not just to stand back and watch.
One year there was no one to be in charge of the Christmas program, and our new pastor asked me if I would do something. There hidden away in the back of my mind was a drive through nativity. It was my personal gift from God. He had given me a ministry. I watched my church come together to make it happen. Ladies ironing costumes, while the men assembled the props. Children in their angel and Bethlehemite costumes, and older men dressed as shepherds. Older ladies making apple cider and hot chocolate in the kitchen, while couples helped each other adjust their costumes. Lines of cars driving through multiple times to witness what this night might have been like the night when Love was born.
And then it was gone. It was time for my family to change churches and I just couldn't let it go. Why would God give me the one thing I had always asked for, and then ask me to lay it down and walk away? He had allowed me to help my church create a new ministry that averaged a car every two minutes, and now He said to lay it down. Every Sunday my husband would ask if I had resigned, and I would look at the floor and shake my head no. Finally one Sunday after asking me if I had resigned with the answer again being no, he got a call. It turned out that there had been a collapse of a room at a local school. The room happened to contain several of the props we had used for the nativity, since he had helped to build them and could borrow them. I sat in the kitchen floor and cried. God was saying to let go.
I sat in a business meeting a few weeks ago, and kept staring at the empty space on the list of jobs for the upcoming year. It was for the Christmas program. My heart so wanted my name to be there, and yet I didn't know if it was me wanting to grab it, or God asking me to pick it up. I waited and prayed...and prayed....and prayed. In my head I can see it again. I see Mary receiving the news that she will bear the Messiah. I see shepherds by a fire surrounded by their sheep looking up at a host of angels proclaiming the best news ever given to this planet. I see the innkeeper shaking his head as an anxious Joseph seeks shelter for his wife who will soon deliver. I see Herod inquiring from the Wise Men about this child they seek. I see Mary holding her newborn in a stable. And I see my Savior now grown and hanging on a cross.
This year I will help my new church to come together and tell the greatest story that has ever been told. It's going to be hard for them to see these pictures that are inside my head, but I am hoping that they will join me in helping the world to see the Gift that it has been given. It won't demand much of their time, no practices and just one weekend. They won't have to speak or stretch themselves beyond their comfort zones, except to maybe be a little chilly for a couple of hours in order to tell the story of a Savior who went to a cross for them. I hope they all want to participate. I hope they all want to see the eyes of a small child looking in wonder as the story of an amazing night unfolds before their eyes....the story of the night when Love was born.
Surely he will never be shaken;
The righteous will be in everlasting remembrance.
He will not be afraid of evil tidings;
His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Psalm 112:6-7 NKJV
A few days ago a friend sent me this verse in a text. As I read those words, I find myself longing to be that person they describe. Someone who is never shaken, not afraid of evil tidings, with a steadfast heart, trusting in the Lord. But I am not her, but I am growing.
Today marks one year since I started this blog. I looked back today at some of my earlier posts, beginning with my grandfather's eulogy. I look back at that girl who started this endeavor last September, and honestly I barely recognize her. I look at her with a mixture of envy and pity. In some ways I envy where she was last September, the naivety of what was transpiring around her. Still filled with an element of trust and joy that she would learn to lose as time went on. In many ways I pity her, knowing what lay ahead of her.
As I read through my posts, I relived so many milestones of the past year. When I started last September 1, I was officially without a church. It was the Sunday between leaving White Oak and starting Pleasant Ridge. As I read on, I traveled the road of letting go of one church home, and becoming part of a new one. I relived the pain of giving up the drive through nativity, and the beginning of the journey to a new job. I also saw glimpses of another struggle that is beyond words.
This year has taught me many things, but there are two that stand above the rest. The first is that you really do not know anyone as well as you think you do. So many of our relationships are superficial, even when we don't think that they are. I have always found such comfort in knowing that I have some of the greatest friends and family members that anyone could ask to have. I never feared dealing with anything alone, yet this year has taught me that there is a place where no one else can join you. I understand the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. I understand the need Jesus experienced to bring the small group of disciples with him farther into the garden to pray. He needed them to be close and to support Him in His final hours before facing the cross. Yet there came a point where He had to withdraw alone to be with God. I have found this year that there are places that you must go alone. There isn't anyone who can go with you. You find yourself alone with God. The other thing that I learned this year stems from the first. When you reach the point that you realize there is no one else to cling to, you find that God really is enough...more than enough. Even when you find yourself so very angry with Him for leaving nothing in your life untouched. Even then, in the pain you find He is all you need. And at some point, you realize that He is all you have.
I look in the mirror now, and I don't look the same. I am not the same. I think God had me begin this blog so that I could go back and read between the lines, and remember where I was, where I went, and where I am today. That girl from last September had a rough year. She was broken more than once in more than one way. She stands stronger, but she bears scars. Some of the broken places are healing, and have grown back stronger and more secure. Some of the broken places bear deep scars, but they tell a story of faith in an amazing God. And some of the broken places are raw and open, and truthfully may never really heal.
So on this one year anniversary of tiptoeing into accepting a much bigger calling, I can smile. I can count it al joy, because in the darkest places I found a Light. Sometimes it was hidden and dim, but it was always there. I am glad He did not show me where this year would take me, because I couldn't have made the journey. There is something to be said for not knowing where the road will go. I am at a new place with God. A place I have never been before. I am in my early forties, and I have found that God has more plans for me than I would have ever began to dream for myself. A God-sized dream for a broken girl. There's a years worth of blog posts here that outline the story...His story for me.