Called to Boldness: A Sister, Wild Swans and Nettle

“Tender-handed stroke a nettle, And it stings you, for your pains:
Grasp it like a man of mettle, And it soft as silk remains.”
Aaron Hill’s Works, circa 1750.

This metaphorical phrase to grasp the nettle, to tackle a difficulty boldly, is one I only vaguely remember prior to several years ago when I had a painful encounter with nettle. Watering a plant in a hanging basket on my deck, I suddenly felt a pain as if stung by a bee. I looked at my hand and at the plant but could find no stinging insect. Upon a closer inspection I saw a small stem of a plant that was clearly not part of my flowering fuschia. I could only detect very small hair-like “brushes” growing along the stem. It didn’t look intimidating, but I didn’t want to test it.

The pain in my hand where I had been “stung” grew worse throughout the evening. It became red and somewhat swollen. An avid perenial gardener, I pulled out my plant books determined to learn what it was, soon declaring that it must be nettle!

Nettle. This rang a bell from long ago in my childhood, and memories slowly crept back.

nettle

There are stories we read as children which have such a profound impact on us that they linger deep within. One such story which I had not thought about in decades, was about a selfless sister who gathered nettle from a graveyard by night, and with her bare hands knit it into magical shirts for her eleven beloved brothers who had been cast by a spell into wild swans. Furthermore, this young girl had to take a vow of silence until her task was complete, because to speak of what she must do would bring immediate death to her brothers. People did not understand why she gathered nettle at night and knit in silence with blistered hands, so they called her a witch and sentenced her to death by burning. Risking their own lives, the swan brothers swooped in to rescue their sister who continued to knit even as she was taken to execution. At the last minute, she flung the woven shirts to her brothers, the wild swans. They were restored to men, all but the arm of one, and she was finally free to speak. The Wild Swans was written by Hans Christian Andersen and first published in 1838.

Self-sacrificial love at any cost. Boldness.

God does not call us to be timid. He gives power through His Spirit to stand boldly against sin and oppression, and to share the burdens of our brothers and sisters in their time of need.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7

He is a Good Father

Psalm 139, Phillipians 4:5-7, I Peter 5:6-9

Overwhelmed by God’s great love for me, I sent a text to a friend that said: I don’t know why God loves me so much.

The reply, just these 5 simple words, made me cry: He is a good father.

Indeed. He is.

Daily, I see God’s provision. I’ve felt His presence and have been amazed and humbled by His blessings. I continue to experience His gentle patience with me as I adjust to and maneuver through major changes and losses in my life.

Life’s struggles can leave us wounded and weary. And although I am living in God’s love and grace, I sometimes lately feel isolated, and succumb to fear and stress.

In my darkest hour, when I am overwhelmed with life, overcome by despair, and operating only on emotion, no amount of reason can make me see clearly. Logic is no longer part of the equation.

You can tell me that things will get better, that my kids still need me, that a lot of people care about me – and right now I know that to be true. But the reality is that when I go over that edge, I lose hope and no longer am able to believe those things, nor do I care. Life is too heavy a burden and I begin to see the Exit ramp as a very appealing alternative.

I shared my struggle last week with a trusted friend and this was her reply:

You don’t have the right to enter into the Lord’s presence until He calls you home.

She said this gently and with love. Time and again, she has spoken wisdom and truth into my life, but this resonated with me more than anything else. Like an arrow hitting its mark, her words went right to my heart. The gravity, reverence and power in that sentence took me completely by surprise.

I don’t have the right…ouch. So true. How could I forget that God is at the center of the universe? And He is always in control!

I took my eyes off of Him. I stopped trusting Him. As I prayed for God’s forgiveness, I knew He already had. God the Creator of the universe chooses to know me intimately, to have a relationship with me. He chooses to set His love on me and my worth is defined by Him:

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? Psalm 139:1-7

He will protect me from the attacks of the enemy, provide friends to come alongside, and He will give me strength, wisdom and discernment to navigate life’s crooked path. I love Him because He first loved me…and I know He always will.

Yes. He is a good father.

Do you trust me?

Do you remember the scene from Disney’s Aladdin? Aladdin, standing on his flying carpet, reaches his hand out to Jasmine and says, “Do you trust me?”.

God wants us to have loving homes rooted in His Word where relationships are built on trust. We begin to learn about trust long before we can talk or walk. A baby cries and, in a loving home, is picked up. A child’s first steps, holding a hand to cross a street, learning to ride a bike…require trust…build trust. Dad is loving, strong, and protective. Mom is loving and gentle. Siblings you fight with at home have your back at school. Healthy families provide safety and shelter from the world, and without even realizing it, kids learn what trust is.

Trust. It’s a common word, overused and taken for granted most of the time. But it is one of the most powerful words in our language, established through a process that we don’t give much thought to. A process filled with events and conversations that, done right, establish trust as a natural outcome over time. You’re not even aware that it’s happening, but you suddenly realize that you can be yourself with this person, you can be honest – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and it’s okay. That’s trust.

On he other hand, it takes very little to break trust. And once trust is broken, it is difficult to rebuild. Sometimes trust is destroyed, and only through God can it be restored.

I am so glad that God never changes, no matter what the circumstances of life may bring. In Him I can always trust and depend. God is always faithful, patient, full of love and grace. And this I know without a shadow of doubt – His Spirit dwells within me and strengthens and comforts me. God is my protector in times of trouble. He weaves a safety net around my life.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise— in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? Psalm 56:3-4

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemies before you, saying, ‘Destroy them!’ Deuteronomy 33:27

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous. They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Psalm 112: 4, 7

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

Jesus stands before me with an outstretched hand and asks, “Do you trust me?” And I will place my hand in His with a childlike trust each day.

 In whom have you placed your trust?

Proof of God’s Faithfulness

As I head toward the house, I look back at the wood, now stacked and ready for the week’s use, and I feel a sense of accomplishment at this weekly chore. Looking at my watch I see that it has only been a few hours, but I know that I couldn’t have done it without my teenage son and daughter helping. I also remember that the wood wouldn’t be split and ready for stacking without the three men from church – all in their 70’s – who split logs and cut kindling for me this fall.gods-faithfulness-wood-stacked

I recognize the Lord’s hand of provision and the blessings He has poured out. I have experienced His faithfulness in meeting all our physical needs, in part through the kindness of others. 

These physical challenges I now face are tangible evidence of the fact that things at home have changed. I have reassurance, though, that God is unchanging, His love and strength unending.  Isaiah 40:28-31 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Less tangible but far more debilitating, are the emotional struggles. 

My sleep is disturbed by Fear creeping in and I’m constantly tired, waking up with an overwhelming sense of dread and loss. I’m adjusting to changes in finances, work, parenting, and more. With so much going on in my life right now, I’m walking a high wire and it doesn’t take much to tip me.

People who don’t know the facts (don’t need to), but think they have all the answers, say insensitive things, wrong things. I try to brush it off, pray, give it to the Lord, but it comes back (I’m working on letting go more fully). The enemy knows exactly where to attack. Pressure builds, things converge, and I begin to panic. I don’t want to free-fall again, but down I go, sinking into the mire, going under. This scares me more than anything. I look to the Father and beg for help, and I know He is with me.

I praise God that although I am weak, He is strong. He never lets go of me. God is faithful, giving comfort and hope; and blessing me with dear friends who provide encouragement, strength, love and Godly counsel. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had Romans 15:5.

Why then do I fall apart weekly? Why can’t I hold on tighter to the hope that I have in God?

We were not made to carry a weight like this alone; nor were we designed to hide it, bury it, or brush it off. God wants us to rely on His strength, to cry out to Him for help as the Psalmists did:

Answer me quickly, Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. Psalm 143:7
I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Psalm 40:1-3

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:17
T
he Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand. Psalm 37:23-24

I am still learning what God is teaching, and what I have learned lately is the depth of my Father’s faithfulness reaches far beyond any pit I sink into. Jesus holds me near and doesn’t let go; He stays with me through each storm and sees me through to the other side. He wipes away every tear.

I have come to understand that as I walk through this valley, it is not a test of my faithfulness to God, but, rather, it is proof of God’s faithfulness to me.