In October of 2006, we went on a road trip to Destin, Florida. The day we left was a crazy, busy day. I bought snacks, tracked down a manual breast pump at Target and sterilized it, and gathered up all of Allyson's baby paraphernalia. Just before it was time to leave, I squeezed in a trip to the library to get some books for me and some audio books for Ethan.
Normally, a trip to the library is a leisurely, drawn-out affair--at least it used to be leisurely before Allyson started choosing her own books and videos (now it's just drawn out). I like to wend my way through the entire fiction section, stacking tempting books up to my chin before I finally make my agonizing choice. There was no time for that on this trip, though. I raced through the stacks and literally grabbed several books at random.
Wedged into the backseat of our impossibly cramped Sentra (because Ethan couldn't deal with Allyson's crying), I cracked open the first book, The Winter Garden, by Johanna Verweerd. I was soon immersed in a poignant story about a woman who struggles to make peace with her dying mother and to let go of deep wounds from her childhood. Instrumental in her healing are several scriptures from Isaiah 43-44, which the author skillfully weaves throughout the book.
1 But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.
4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give men in exchange for you,
and people in exchange for your life.
5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west.
6 I will say to the north, 'Give them up!'
and to the south, 'Do not hold them back.'
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth-
7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made."...
16 This is what the LORD says—
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,
17 who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
18 "Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!ISAIAH 44
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland....
3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.
4 They will spring up like grass in a meadow,
like poplar trees by flowing streams.
As I read these passages, tears stung my eyes and my heart quickened in recognition. Could this be my new memory passage? I prayed and thanked God for these beautiful scriptures, though it still hadn't occurred to me that he had led me to the book. "I'd really like to memorize this," I told him, "but I'd like you to confirm my choice."
Even as the prayer left my lips, I wondered how God could possibly answer my prayer. We were heading out of town, far from our church or anyone outside our family of four--and Allyson didn't even talk yet!
A couple of days later, I started the second book, Paul: A Novel, by Walter Wangerin. Can you guess what scripture passage I found in the first chapter? I was utterly amazed to see my confirmation, in writing!
This story still thrills me. Not only did God guide me to my passage, in one book among literally thousands, but because he knew that I would ask for confirmation, he also led me to a SECOND book that quoted the same passage. Further, he probably nudged me to read The Winter Garden first; the Isaiah passage was much more prominent in that book, and had I read them in the opposite order, or with another book between them, I might not have noticed it in the Wangerin book.
Only God knew what those scriptures would mean to me. I loved both chapters in Isaiah, and it was hard to choose which verses to memorize, but I finally chose the three passages listed above. During the year or so that it took me to memorize them, several truths worked their way firmly into my heart, always at the exact moment that I needed them.
Redeemed, Summoned By Name
In the first few months, I was grappling with guilt while I attended my first ladies' Bible study. Believing that God had redeemed me and chosen me by name was vital to accepting my forgiveness. Gradually, I began to comprehend that I truly was precious and honored in God's sight, and this led me to believe that I was capable of loving and being loved.
Passing Through the Waters
Letting go of the guilt stirred up old insecurities, and at times I felt like I was drowning. I remember one Saturday morning when I'd mistakenly concluded that a friend had abandoned me. I knelt on the floor of my closet, pretending to sort laundry, while I cried. "I hurt, God. I hurt!" I whispered between sobs.
I clearly heard a voice answer me in my mind: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.... I have summoned you by name. You are mine." I collapsed over the pile of laundry, my body growing limp as peace washed over me. I was NOT alone, and even if my friend never spoke to me again, God would be with me.
Snuffed Out Like a Wick
Three years have passed, and I feel like I'm finally on my way to forgetting the former things so that I can move on to something new, but sometimes those old insecurities try to push their way back in. Whenever that happens, I remind myself that these enemies are utterly destroyed, never to rise again, snuffed out like a wick.
Water on the Thirsty Land
Despite all the blessings I've enjoyed these last couple of years, there are days and weeks when I feel dry and dull, especially when I don't spend time with my Father. But each time I meditate on the scriptures he's lovingly revealed to me, I feel his spirit pouring over me like water on thirsty land, like streams on the dry ground.
What About the New Thing?
I've long since finished memorizing this passage, though it's still a favorite. I've often wondered when the new thing was going to spring up, and whether I'd recognize it when it came. I definitely feel that God is doing new things in my life right now, mainly in pushing me to share my faith, and to allow his love to flow through me to others who have thirsty hearts.
Sometimes, when I'm teetering on the edge of consciousness at bedtime, I'm seized with excitement about what God has planned for my future. It feels terribly urgent, and exhilarating. In my waking hours, though, I feel afraid because I know that growth so often involves trials. Still, I pray regularly that God will guide me into his will. I know that even if I walk through the fire, I won't be burned as long as he's with me.