As the Christmas season and New Years has been in full steam this year there has been one word that has just been stuck in my head, Emmanuel – God with us.
As I think back over the year, I think of so many things that happened. It was a year filled with unspeakable joy and pain.
God was with me when I was sitting in the ditch beside my totaled car.
God was with me when joy filled by heart so full it felt it could burst.
God was with me in that hospital room when I said hello and goodbye to my tiny nephew.
God was with me in my victories.
God was with me in my sleepless nights.
God was with me in my hours of driving back and forth to work every week
God was with me when I felt all alone.
Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee withersoever thou goest. ~ Joshua 1:9
This year made me more aware then ever before that God was with me in everything. There were days when He felt far away, but He wasn’t. He was right beside me even though I didn’t feel Him. He was there for me when I cried out to Him. He was with me! The Creator of the universe never left my side… not even for a moment.
I’ve have been so blessed beyond words the last month just meditating on the fact that HE, Emmanuel is with us!!! No matter how great your joy this next year, or how deep your pain, never ever forget that He is Emmanuel – God with us!
Rain splattered on my windshield as I drove mile after mile on my way to visit a friend. An hour and a half of mulling over faith was on my agenda for that drive. The last few days I couldn’t get the subject off my mind and what our lives would be like if we fully trusted God with everything. So there I was, driving alone in the quiet as I formulated my thoughts and contemplated if I should do a blog post about it.
What would life look like, I wonder, if Christians – if I – took God at His every word, if we based our lives completely on it? What if I had the faith to step out on the water when God said “come”? Instead I hide shaking in the corner of the boat, focused on the crashing waves and comtemplating if I would sink or not.
Sometimes He asks us to take risks for Him, but our eyes grow wide with fear, focusing on the risk. We forget about the faithfulness of the One asking us to take it and trust.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” ~Hebrews 11:1
“For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” ~ Romans 8:24-25
The rain continued to fall softly as I drove, mulling over faith and begging God to give me more of it, the kind of faith that has such a deep trust I’d step out onto the water immediately if He said “come”.
As I turned onto a winding road as I neared my destination, my concentration more on my driving, I left my faith ponderings in one of the many folders of my brain to be pulled up later and maybe written out. A few minutes later, I came around a corner that was sharper than I expected and hit a patch of water. I felt myself completely lose control of my car as it began to spin in circles down the road, bouncing from one side of the road to the other. Pieces of my car landed all over as it slid, as if someone had dropped a marble on the floor.
I finally landed firmly in the ditch and all the normal things of an accident happened. I sat shaken up in the ditch beside my car, which resembled a pile of smashed medal more than a car. God spoke to me through the chaos, “Will you live out what you were just saying? Will you trust me that I have a greater plan even though to you it doesn’t look pleasant right now?”
As I sat there, sitting in the cold, wet ditch splattered in mud, the thought hit me – why do I feel “safer” trusting my own faulty judgement and plans when I can’t even see the whole picture? Is it not better to trust the Creator of the universe who knows my life from beginning to end and knows just what would have happened had I not ended up in the ditch Saturday night?
The fact that I walked away with only a sore neck when it could have been so much worse is astounding. A car could have hit me head on as my car spun 150 feet down the road, and I could have ended up in the hospital with serious injuries, or worse. It all reminds me of God’s overflowing mercy and grace.
I never thought I’d say I’m grateful for a smashed car, but tonight I am, as it reminds me that God’s plans are so much greater than ours!
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” ~Isaiah 55:8-9
Will you join me in begging God to give us radical faith to cut the very limb we are sitting upon if God is underneath ready to hold us? Will we live our lives in faith and risk all, held by a faithful God? or will we continue to think we know better how to steer our lives than God? Every moment we’re alive we are risking our lives on faith in someone. Will you take risks trusting and leaning on God, or will you only take risks according to what you can see and plan and think best?
It was junior girls week and my co-counselor Sarah and I were in our cabin with our 4 campers getting our luggage settled in. Instead of having the typical 4 campers, this week we had 5 on our list. It had been 2 hours though since all the rest of the campers had shown up and I was beginning to greatly question whether she’d even show up. Knowing many of our campers came from very dysfunctional homes I figured that something came up; maybe she wasn’t able to get a ride, maybe she didn’t have anyone that put her as a priority, maybe this had happened to her more times than she could count and it was just one of many dissapointments and empty hopes and promises! As I continued thinking about the situation, I thew my oversized backpack under the bed that seemed like I always ended up needing something during the week that it didn’t contain no matter how much a packed each week… camp is unpredictable sometimes. Just then I heard a clear, small knock at the door, my co-counselor and I jumped up to open it and there standing in the doorway was our 5th little girl Katy. She was very petite and small with straight brown hair that framed her face, she was holding a very large black, tattered suitcase, big enough she could easily fit herself into it. She looked at us slightly skeptical and we told her “welcome to the Crystals cabin, come on in.” She stepped in and the middle-aged lady behind her said “well there you are Katy, have a good time and we’ll see you in a week” and off she walked up the hill. We were in the middle of baggage check so I asked Katy if I could go through the list with her to make sure she had everything she needed. She smiled a little and said sure. Unzipping her large black suitcase, she lifted the lid and I saw a small pile of clothes sitting in the bottom of it. “Let’s go around and say a few things about ourselves so we can all get to know each other” I said. “How about your favorite color, your age, and your birthday.” Chrissy went first, stating her favorite colors, that she was 10 and her birthday was October 7th, then the next girl and the next. It was Katy’s turn and she simply stated, “I like purple and I’m 9”. “When is your birthday?” I asked, hoping she would feel valued and that facts like that were special about her. She looked back and me and smiled and said, “Well, I’m in foster care and things like that aren’t really important to people so I’ve forgot since no one ever brings it up.” I sat slightly taken back when she said it as such fact with no emotion. Ever since I was 5 I can remember looking forward to my birthday and wondering what surprises it would hold! Dear Chrissy, our only alumni camper, quickly piped up, “Well, I guess that means your birthday could be any day so we should just be extra nice to you every day encase it’s your birthday that day.” Katy flashed a big happy grin! “Wow,” I thought, “maybe these 10 year olds will be teaching me instead of me teaching them!”
That afternoon in free time Katy squealed, “lets got to the petting zoo.” Gabby said she want to go to but the other three girls wanted to go back to the cabin to get stuff. So Katy, Gabby, and I headed to the petting zoo. We stood there with sticks in our hands scratching the pig’s belly. The duck, who the girls had hope to pet, was running to the other end of the pen. “Why does the duck not trust us?” Katy asked. “Probably because too many kids have chased him and not been nice to him so he’s scared of us now.” I said. Gabby thought for a minute then said, “You know, I kinda feel like that duck does sometimes; it’s really hard for me to get to where I truly trust people!” “Amen,” Katy said, “I’ve had too many people come and go. You have to prove to me that you care.” I knew both of them were from foster care and had a lot of things in common, including the same caseworkers. I hoped they’d realize it and find a connection in it. I asked them if they wanted to share a little bit of their story. Enthusiastic Katey jumped on the chance, “I live with Miss Mary and she’s okay; she takes care of us but I don’t get along very well with the other kids there. Before that though I was in a really bad foster home, but Macy, my caseworker, came one day and told me to get my stuff together because I was going to a new home.” “What Macy are you talking about?” Gabby asked. “My case worker Macy, she’s really awesome.” Katy said. Gabby paused and said, “Wow, that’s crazy, she’s my caseworker too and I love her. I remember the night I was put in foster care, it wasn’t that long ago. I woke up in the middle of the night to my mom trying to kill herself. Police and all sorts of people showed up, and I was taken away that night at 2am. It was a big mess and the wildest night of my life. They finally found me a home the next day and things settled down a bit.” Katy frowned slightly and said, “Sorry Gabby, it’s not fun being in foster care.” The bell rang and off we ran to Fort Turley for dinner. We finished up chapel and headed back to our cabins for small group discussion. It was share-the-gospel night. My dear three and I were inside the cabin and my co-counselor had the other two on the front porch. I only got a few minutes in when my girls started firing questions. “I’ve wondered for a while, why didn’t God die instead of Jesus? because that seems selfish to make his son die.” Arie said. Katy looked confused, “Okay, so can you explain exactly who Jesus is and why he had to die, because before this week I hadn’t really heard of him.” The questions continued to flow faster than I could answer. Arie and Gabby both had a relative in their life who would take them to church and VBS sometimes so they knew quite a bit of the basics of the gospel and had some deep questions about sin, suffering, God’s faithfulness, and sovereignty. Katy, on the other hand, believed there was a God, but shot out questions all through the week about the most basic things of the gospel and salvation. Katy was laying in one of the hammocks humming a tune when I walked over and asked if she wanted to be pushed. “Yup!” she said with the little Katy twinkle in her eyes. I started swinging her and she pulled her arms in tight by her side and squeezed her legs together. “I’m a worm in my cocoon right now, BUT!” She said bursting out, “I want to be a butterfly so bad!” She giggled and flipped her hair out of her face and spread her arms and legs out in the hammock trying to mimic a butterfly flying. I kept pushing and pulling methodically on the rope and talking and laughing at her knock knock jokes she started, but inside my mind was busier than a hive of bees on the last day of summer. “I wonder,” I thought “if Katy was just saying that as something random, or if it did really hold some depth behind it, and she was trying to communicated something to me. Maybe this analogy fit our 26 campers here this week quite well! Maybe all these girls feel like caterpillars sometimes that are a nuisance but under the right conditions they could bloom into a beautiful butterfly!” I thought for a moment, “I wish so bad that I could just keep my girls forever and pour my life into them, giving them every opportunity possible to be a beautiful carefree butterfly that knows they are loved by God and the people around them and they can feel safe to bloom!” The next evening as we were having small group and talking about different struggles, Arie piped up, “I like it here, everybody is nice to me. At school when I’m home most of the kids bully me and make fun of me because my dad is in prison, they say I’ll ever be worth anything because I’ll turn out just like him. I love him and I’m excited about him getting out. Do you think, Jo, that because I still love him I’ll grow up and go to prison too?” Her head lowered in shame as she finished her sentence. “No, Arei,” I said, “you can still love your dad and have a relationship with him but not be defined by his crimes! Don’t ever believe the lie that you have no choice but to live the kind of life your dad lived that sent him to prision. Each and every single one of us have our own set of choices we can make! Sometimes it’s much easier to just go with one but you always do have a choice, and never forget that Arie! There is always God to be there for us no matter what happens, and never let go of hope ever!” Part 2 to follow shortly. *Names changed for Privacy