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Surrender in the storms

I had made up my mind.

I wasn’t going to Israel.

Just thinking about going gave me anxiety, something I’ve struggled with since 2010. It mainly circulates around my kids and bad things happening to them, and while my anxiety has gotten better, I still struggle from time to time. I kept thinking of my kids getting hurt or sick while I was gone. I kept thinking about our daughter, Tenley, eating a peanut, affecting her ability to breathe. I kept thinking of my husband, Adam, and I dying, and our kids not having parents.

My thoughts were extreme, as that’s usually how anxiety works. Adam was signed up to go to Israel, but I was not.  Shortly after I told everyone I wasn’t going, the Lord continued to put people in my life to tell me otherwise. I remember my friend, Bonnie, telling Adam and my friend, Laura, “I’m praying the Lord changes her heart to go!” (Bonnie and Laura were also signed up to go on the trip.)

We had friends who offered to pay my way. Several other friends kept saying, “Just think of what you can bring back and teach and share with your kids and family!” In these moments, I knew the Lord was working.

But anytime I would think to myself “I should go!” Satan was right there telling me I shouldn’t, intruding on my thoughts and giving me nightmares. I could feel the tension in my spirit. The Lord kept saying, “trust Me” and my flesh kept thinking of the “what if’s.”

The last day to sign up arrived. I remember Adam telling me, “I really don’t want to experience this without you.” I kept praying for the Lord to “give me a sign.” How silly was that?! I was making deals with God. If you give me a sign, then I’ll go.

Later that day, I remember saying, “Okay, I’m going to go!” I still really have no idea why I was so confident in that moment. Adam couldn’t get his phone out fast enough to text our friends and tell them to sign me up!

Confidence shaken

That night I laid in bed and thought I was going to puke. I was shaking, and I asked Adam to look up and see when the last day was that I could cancel. He kept reassuring me that I was going and that everything would be fine.

This back and forth of fear and excitement took place up until we left. There were a few things the Lord placed in front of me to remind me that I would be just fine. For instance, I remember a special guest speaker visiting Stones just months before we left. In his message, he talked about fear and used a fitting analogy. His exact words were “God is saying just get on the plane!” I couldn’t help but laugh and every friend in that auditorium who knew about my anxiety looked me and smiled!

A week before the trip we had friends come together and pray for our trip. It was beautiful, and the Spirit worked in my heart that night. I truly felt covered in prayer. Everything worked out for me to go financially, and our parents helped out by staying with our kids.

Peace returns

The morning of the trip I woke up and checked the daily Bible verse. It just so happened to be the verse I cling to—our family verse—Romans 12:12: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” How perfect was that?! I just knew the Lord was hearing my heart and prayers as my loving Father and that I shouldn’t expect anything less.

However, I boarded the plane and felt both peace and fear. It was a struggle again of being torn between the flesh and the spirit. When I trust my flesh, nothing good comes from that. As Christians, we are taught to trust the Holy Spirit and obey Him. Doing so always brings blessings.

Adventures in Israel

Day five in Israel was the halfway mark into our trip. We were on the Sea of Galilee where the Lord fed the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish (referenced in Matthew 14:14-21) and calmed the storm (see Mark 4). My emotions hit in this location, and tears flowed as perfect peace flooded my heart. It was like watching a video in fast forward and my brain wouldn’t stop moving so quickly. I resonated with the people who spent time with Jesus in His day. For example, how was God going to provide food to feed so many? How were the people going to believe that he could do this? And then, he did it, even as they doubted Him. We do the same thing.

Even when we don’t know how He will do it, even in our doubts, the Lord takes care of us. Even as he taught the disciples at the Sea of Galilee during His earthly life, we are capable of the same behavior. Even when Jesus is walking on water on our behalf, we don’t even recognize He is doing it. He’s always pursuing us, is always trying to get our attention, and is always in every “storm” of our lives. And when we listen and obey—just like the disciples did—He will bless us because of that obedience.

The Garden Tomb

Three days later, we visited the garden tomb in Jerusalem. Adam led worship for our group in a cave, where we also took communion together. It was so powerful! After that experience, I kept thinking of the word “garden.” When you have a garden, you must tend to it. Pruning is key to promote healthy growth, and this analogy of the heart has always been my favorite. Pruning isn’t fun. It’s work, it’s messy, and it can be painful! Painful in the sense that it’s laborious and there might be some thorns. In that moment, I realized the Lord had been pruning my heart of anxiety and fear. Trusting Him isn’t always easy and to me it has been almost painful. Being refined is not enjoyable but necessary. After making the decision to travel to Israel, it was painful. The dreams and the thoughts were painful. To fly on the plane and believe we’d arrive to our destination was painful. To just believe that I trust Him with my life is painful. I had to surrender it all to Him and know He has all of our last day in His hands.

Comfort and peace despite thorns

I love this quote from Ruth Chou Simons, a Christian author: “If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past decade, it’s this we missed the lesson when we pick at the thorn…nurse it …bemoan …curse it. The enemy would have us so blinded by the pain of the thorn that we can’t see the beauty of the rose garden. I’ve been there so many times…so consumed by the discomfort that won’t go away that I can’t experience the fragrance of grace lies just ahead. Look past the thorn to how Christ is enough in the midst of it. His grace is sufficient for the thorn he chooses not to remove.” (The thorn is in reference to 2 Corinthians 12:7-9.)

I felt like my thorn, or my discomfort, was getting on the plane and not being able to trust God that I would return home safely to my kids. Ultimately, the thorn in my side has always been fear or worry. I do believe God pruned a lot of those thorns out in the midst of this trip. Since we returned, I have a new strength in me from the Holy Spirit that was not there before. Fear and worry will probably be something I always struggle with from time-to-time, because I’m human, and that seems to be my sin. Being able to experience this trip and see and walk the sites where Jesus did His ministry and died for our sins has given me a deeper love and strength for Him.

I will forever be thankful for such a life-changing and life-giving opportunity.
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