I celebrated my 29th birthday last weekend. Eek! I can’t believe it. My husband planned a sort of progressive celebration, beginning with breakfast at our house with my parents and siblings. Growing up when it was one of our birthdays we would have a time of “words of encouragement” as we called it, where we all went around and said something kind and encouraging to the birthday person. We have held on to this tradition even into adulthood, and so there I sat in anticipation. It is always such a meaningful time to a big words person like me. We have long since moved past the “I love you because you are nice, and I hope you have a good birthday” of our childhood and are really able to speak into each other’s lives. Nobody coordinates with each other what they are going to say, so it’s interesting to see how themes develop from what everyone says. This year what stood out to me was courage.
It came out in things that different ones said. I was encouraged to be in the moment, having the courage to embrace the seemingly mundane aspects of life as a mom because God is in it. I was encouraged to be myself, having the courage to fully be who God made me and to do what He has called me to do. I was encouraged to not be afraid of taking risks in my friendships, having the courage to not hide or apologize for my convictions. All of these were spoken by my husband and family, however, what blew me away this year was the fact that all of these seemed to coincide with what I have felt God to be speaking to me over the last few weeks.
I have written before about some of the challenges of this last year for my husband and me, one of which was his medication change and hospitalization in the fall. During that season it took all my strength to hold on to truth and not allow my mind to endlessly scroll through lists of terrible possibilities in my head. What is interesting to me though is that the faint whisper of “have courage and stay alert” comes to me now and not then. Why? It seems more apropos that this pep talk would come during a season of pain, right?
I am realizing in my relationship with God though that He loves to build a history with me. Although there is plenty of His presence and insight during times of struggle, He doesn’t leave or grow complacent in His teaching or preparing me during “peacetime,” even if it might be my tendency to want to coast during better circumstances. The combination of His voice and the memory of His presence with me in the past are an anchor for my soul during tumultuous times.
There is an excerpt from Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis that I love. Lucy along with her brother Edmond, her cousin Eustace and Prince Caspian are sailing along toward an island in the distance. The farther they travel, the darker and darker it becomes. They can’t see their way and lose sight of where they are going. In the midst of the fear and uncertainty, Lucy calls out to Aslan for help. The darkness does not lessen, but light appears and then this happens:
“Lucy looked along the beam and presently saw something in it. At first it looked like a cross, then it looked like and aeroplane, then it looked like a kite, and at last with a whirring of wings it was right overhead and was an albatross. It circled three times round the mast and then perched for an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them. After that it spread its wings, rose, and began to fly slowly ahead bearing a little to starboard. Drinian steered after it not doubting that it offered good guidance. But no one except Lucy knew as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, ‘Courage dear heart,’ and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.”
I have been through seasons of longing for His voice, perspective and peace when my circumstances were scary and shadowed by uncertainty. However, the tenacious chasing after God shouldn’t stop when things get better, but continue. God invites us to continue on the adventure of building a history with Him both during the difficult times and the times of rest, during times when it feels like we are trying to keep our heads above water and “smooth sailing,” when we are fighting for survival or fighting complacency. The daily cultivation of His presence in our lives and identities rooted in who He says we are, are anchors for our soul when adversity does come.
So seize the day because“…This is the day the Lord has made…!” No matter what the season, embrace the mundane because God is in it; be yourself because God made you beautifully; take risks because there is grace abounding. Whether you are in the darkest storm of your life or just coasting on the other side, “Courage, dear heart.” Stay alert, stay close to Jesus and run hard.