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

A Fork in the Road

Several years ago I traveled with a friend to the Keweenaw Peninsula – one of the most beautiful areas in the country. At that time, I had never been to Copper Harbor, but my traveling companion had. North of Hancock, there is only one main route, US-41, that will take you there. However, if you are so inclined, when you reach Eagle River you can turn off the main road onto State Route 26 which eases slowly up the shoreline offering breathtaking views of one of the most spectacular bodies of freshwater on Earth – Lake Superior.Keweenaw Peninsula

My friend, having been to the Keweenaw previously, was quite adamant about staying on the main route because it was faster, more direct, and that was the way they always went. But I remembered hearing something interesting about Eagle Harbor, which is along the lesser route, and really felt we should go that way.

Unfortunately I discovered that as I continued to suggest this, my friend went from mildly annoyed at my naivety to increasingly frustrated at me for questioning their wisdom in the matter. In no uncertain terms I was told that the main road was THE road leading directly to Copper Harbor and to take the turn-off would not only slow us down, but offered nothing that would make the time worthwhile.

For them, the issue boiled down to this: their experience trumped my opinion. They were right – I was wrong. I learned something about my friend that day. I also learned something personally beneficial, but it didn’t click until much later.

As I think back on this and similar situations, I remember feeling defeated. It’s disheartening when you try to convey your thoughts or opinion about something, and are met with hostility by people who have to be in control. Maybe I will discover that I am wrong, but at least be willing to listen to what I have to say. Discuss it with me and help me to understand your view as you try to understand mine. Healthy communication requires at least two people be engaged in an exchange of ideas and thoughts.

It can be even more disheartening when this happens among Believers. Respect grows when Godly authority and leadership is willing to listen and ready to pray about an issue together. But there is another lesson to be learned here; one that is becoming more glaringly obvious to me lately: Just let go.

God is the final Authority. Just as God handled the situation on the Keweenaw, He will handle the important issues in life. In fact, He already has. He has plans for our life that are for our good, and no matter who comes along to tell us “It’s my way or no way”, God will work things out for our good when we seek His will.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord , “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

I have certainly been wrong before. I’ve made bad decisions. I will not hesitate to admit that I have been heading down the wrong path, stubbornly running into road block after road block before God can get my attention. As I learn to let go of the issues I cannot control anyway, it frees my spirit to say: Your will, Lord, not mine.

And if the other person needs to learn some things then God will take care of that, too…

Giving up, I closed my mouth. We took US-41. Then we came to a dead stop 8 miles in. Cars were not getting through and we were forced to turn around. We went back to the turn-off at Eagle River and meandered up the shore.

As you pass through Eagle Harbor you will come to Jacob’s Falls and a turn-off where there is a small bakery called The Jampot. This bakery is operated by monks of The Society of St. John Monastery. They mix it, make it, and bake it…and it is amazing! Trust me when I say you have not experienced anything like this.

I am still learning what God is teaching, and what I have learned lately is to let go and let God take care of me. 

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?

Humility

“You act like you are the 1st person to go through a divorce”.

This was the chastisement I recently received from a fellow Believer, and like a knife driven in deep it cut to the quick. This friend has, by their own account, never experienced any major grief events in their life. This is a first for me.

I’ve discussed Encouragement from the Body of Christ in a previous post, and it is clear that God instructs us to carry the weak and be patient and longsuffering with one another. The “one another” are our brothers and sisters in Christ. As a Believer, my Hope rests in God’s faithfulness. I trust Him to provide for my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs. There is no doubt in my mind of my salvation through Christ Jesus, or of God’s ability and desire to supply all my needs. My Father wants the best for me, not just the best from me.

This hope, trust, and faith is what ties us together as Believers. The fact that we are truly brothers and sisters in Christ, “God’s kids”, gives us a connection that cannot be broken, cannot be matched, and should be revered.

At this point you may be wondering where all this is leading since I began with “Humility“.

Here is the thing: no one has walked in my shoes. I am doing the best I can each day, hour by hour. I know I have been unlovable at times, and I know I have been angry and spoken harshly; and this genuinely grieves me and adds to my sorrow. When this has happened I was truly at a place of such despair – filled with fear and loss of hope – that I could not move past it. Often times, in the midst of this darkness, I have felt the physical presence of Holy Spirit bring peace, relief and comfort that instantly washed over me.

But God works through people, too, and there have been times when whatever issue had brought on this panic needed to be resolved in my mind. This might be as simple as clarification of a miscommunication, because the enemy attacks us where we are most vulnerable. Once the resolution took place, so that my mind could process the facts and the facts led back to a “safe place”, my entire perspective was changed.

I’m not in any way excusing myself from owning my offenses. I am deeply remorseful and have sought forgiveness from God and from the offended. But I cannot emphasize this enough: the valley of grief is not a familiar road, nor is it filled with predictable circumstances; therefore, “normal” behavior and response to situations get temporarily redefined. Just Google “Stages of Grief” to see what I am talking about.

In this most fragile state, every bump in the road is amplified and devastating. When too many bumps come in rapid succession, the resulting panic may not be understandable to the ones not on that road. As I became more aware of the waves of grief that would overtake me, this too raised my anxiety because I feared it happening again. I have spent more time on my knees in prayer and in Scripture. I have and will continue to take these things to the Lord.

For me there is new-found wisdom in this. I have learned that this is the nature of grief, yet God loves me through it. For those who have not walked this road of sorrow, I am truly glad – I don’t wish this for anyone. But please be mindful of the very real pain that those who are on that road must endure. Empathize, encourage and support them in every way. Do not deal harshly with them and be ready to forgive. Remember that this is a lesson best learned by observation rather than through experience.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12

I am still learning what God is teaching, and what I have learned lately is that God wants us to be gentle with those whose spirits are crushed.

Comfort and Hope

Utterly at the end of myself in recent weeks, I have cried out to God many times. During this time God has blessed my life in ways I could never have imagined. He has surprised and amazed me – working miracles, moving mountains, and being undeniably present in my life! He has heard my cry, and responded in very immediate, unmistakable and specific ways. And I have found how real the promise of this verse is: Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. – James 4:8

In the last few months, as I have been overcome again and again with grief, I have felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in a very physical way, more powerful than anything I have experienced before. He has rescued and comforted me when I have been spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted. Sin – not God – causes pain in our lives. Not always our own sin. Sometimes the sin of another can touch us and have drastic consequences. Free will makes that possible. Sometimes it happens unintentionally, but like dominoes falling, the devastation can be far-reaching. Other times, the offense is due to a direct sin against us. Can you think of a time when someone, either directly or indirectly, sinned against you? Or maybe a sin in your life caused pain for someone else? If possible, you should go to that person, either to confront their sin or to confess your own, as Matthew 18 instructs: If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. (verse 15)

Regardless the outcome, take comfort and find hope in these words from Isaiah 41:10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

My Hope is in the Lord. He is bigger than all my troubles. Jesus understands life’s pain and He knows my heart. He weeps with me and He comforts me. He is my rock and my refuge. I am still learning what God is teaching, and what I have learned recently is that God’s grace and mercy in my darkest hour is awesome and amazing!

Have you placed your Hope in Him?