Remember how I said in my last post, "I'm sure this trial is far from over"? Of course I was right, but even I didn't expect that my joy would be so short-lived. Within 48 hours, I began to entertain worries about the future, and by the following morning, this past Sunday, I was in a full-blown anxiety attack. It wasn't even the worries about the future that got me, it was the frustration that I could be so vulnerable to my negative thoughts even after such an amazing revelation about why God is allowing me to go through this difficult time.
My typical tendency toward anxiety had been compounded by lack of sleep, and after an hour of trying to read the Bible and pray, I had myself convinced that I was surely losing my sanity. They'll have to carry me off, I thought. I just don't see how I can go on.
At that point, I sent a text message to my sister Amy asking that she and Mom request prayer for me at their church that morning. "I feel like I'm drowning," I told her.
And then I sat on the back porch drowning in my tears, gripped by a formless fear that constricted my chest. "Please God," I whispered. "Please. Please rescue me."
Amy's response encouraged me a bit, especially since she said she and Mom were praying against fear even though I hadn't told her I was afraid. But I still had a hard time holding back tears when I woke Allyson and made her breakfast. If she saw the tears that splashed into my cold cereal, she didn't say anything.
The first song at church was Our God is Greater, by Chris Tomlin. When the music minister reminded us that God is bigger than any problem we could have brought in with us, I started to sob. I cried through most of the worship service, while Bill silently squeezed my hand. These weren't the happy tears I usually shed during worship, nor were they tears of relief. They were tears of hopelessness and longing.
But when Pastor Bill stepped out to deliver his message on fear, everything changed in an instant. Here's the verse that flashed on the screen:
For God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)
I grabbed Bill's arm. "Hey, that's the verse Amy just texted me. She and Mom were praying that for me this morning!" I could barely keep my voice to a whisper.
"Weird," he whispered back.
"Not weird, wonderful," I said. "That's God."
The sermon was perfect for my situation. What stuck with me most was the admonition to be persistent in my faith, to expect opposition from the enemy but to keep my eyes on God's promises.
I walked out of the church in awe, humbled at God's grace. I felt ashamed to need so many reassurances, and grateful for His patience with me. I felt very loved. But I still felt terribly sad and tired.
Bill and Allyson dropped me at the airport that afternoon for my flight to Portland. I passed through security numbly and then wandered through the airport looking for something to eat, wayward tears slipping down my cheeks at random moments. I didn't even bother to brush them away. The airport was so crowded that strangers kept bumping me, yet I felt utterly invisible.
I called Amy and Mom from the gate and told them the story of the pastor's message. We were all excited about how God had so clearly spoken to Amy about my fear, and how he'd given me exactly the same message twice in one hour.
But I was still teary when I ended the call and walked down the jetway. God, I thought, could you please sit me next to someone kind? But then I dismissed the idea, for of course the seat assignments had been arranged long before.
The girl next to me did seem quite pleasant, and she willingly loaned me her only pen for the first hour of the flight while I poured out my heart in my journal. After that she took a nap, and I read several chapters of The Hunger Games, which was quite captivating but not at all cheerful.
I closed the book when I was down to the last three chapters, saving the rest for the return flight this Saturday. I closed my eyes then, but sleep wouldn't come. Instead, the scary thoughts tried to worm their way back in. "You're all alone on this plane. There's no one to talk to, no one who understands. You're probably going crazy."
I opened my eyes and stared out over the wing at the fluffiest white clouds I'd ever seen. The sky was full of God's majesty, but all I wanted was a friend to hold my hand. I turned away from the window with a sigh. My seatmate was awake, and she was looking at me. "Are you enjoying that?" she asked, gesturing to my book.
I shook my head slightly to clear my thoughts. "Hunger Games? Oh, yes. It's a great book. Have you read it?"
She had, and she also saw the movie, which she said was good but nowhere near as good as the book. We talked easily for a few minutes, and then gradually the conversation turned more serious. I learned that she is a nurse manager who works in an addiction treatment center, and that they work with their patients to help them overcome negative thought patterns.
So I took a deep breath and told her about my negative thought patterns. She was kind, compassionate, and very reassuring. We talked about scriptures that apply to my situation, agreeing that the only way to combat the lies is by replacing them with truth.
We talked for over an hour. As the plane made its final approach, I told her how I'd prayed that God would put me next to someone kind, and I thanked her for ministering to a stranger. She told me I'd ministered to her just as much. She'd had a hard trip, and she hated to have missed church, and the best thing that could have happened was having someone to talk about Jesus with. She also confessed that she never talks to people on planes--neither do I--and that she is very shy and doesn't like to start conversations with strangers. So neither of us had a doubt that God had orchestrated our encounter.
When we pulled into the gate, I finally thought to introduce myself. She said her name was Molly. When we parted ways at the terminal, she gave me a hug. I smiled all the way to the hotel as I marveled at God's providence. He knew all along what I would ask, and He'd already granted my request. At the same time, he met Molly's need even though she hadn't asked anything.
In the two days since, God has continued to lavish me with little signs of his love. I've laughed with colleagues whom I haven't seen in two years, eaten salmon that melted in my mouth, walked everywhere in the most glorious weather, drunk in the sight of towering trees that belong on a serenity poster, and eaten cookies and scones lovingly made by the locals on my team. Today at lunch was the icing on the cake. I met a girl from class who is a fervent Christian. She's my age, and we seem to have a lot in common. We shared tips for insomnia, and we talked about Jesus. When lunch was over, she gave me a hug, and I called her my sister.
I was positively grinning as I walked back to class because I realized that truly I had just found a sister I'd never met before. How incredible is that? I have sisters and brothers everywhere. How could I ever feel alone?
Again, I'll readily admit that this trial is far from over, but at this moment I am overflowing with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13). And the next time I feel like I'm drowning, I know God will pull me out of the deep waters. He will rescue me from my powerful enemy who is too strong for me, and he will bring me out into a spacious place. He will rescue me because he delights in me (Psalm 18:16-19).
Now, a request for you. Please don't worry about me. Instead, pray for me when I come to mind. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1, I felt in my heart the sentence of death, but it happened so that I might not rely on myself but on God, who raises the dead. "He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope, that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers" (emphasis added).
You keep helping me by your prayers, and God will continue to deliver me.