This month, we took a journey, a pilgrimage of sorts, Jere and I.
We left last month from JFK and flew upward and over Iceland, arching down above Europe and crossed several seas. We began to descend and see a stunning coastline…then touched down in Israel.
It was a journey in that we went a long way, and stayed a fairly long time, and shared a combination of tours and private time. We were able to savor sites and moments and food, and to learn about history and current challenges and co-existing cultures. Oh, it was a journey.
It was a pilgrimage in that we went to be challenged in our faith, our calling, and to learn about things of the soul. We found ourselves astounded and tearful, cheering and cursing, wondering and thanking. Oh, it was a pilgrimage.
Israel…the land God gave to the fathers of our faith. The land He declared was holy and set apart, yet over and over and over has been decimated by the actions and consequences of the adulterous hearts of the inheritors. Yet undeniably the root of Truth and the imprint of covenant is marked on her and evidenced in every step and city and face and moment. God speaks through the land of Israel. He calls and reminds and cajoles and encourages through the land of Israel. He loves…oh, how He loves through the land of Israel.
So toward the end of the trip, one of our spiritual leaders challenged us. What was our lesson, our takeaway, our revealing through this journey-pilgrimage? What had God shown us, what had he shown ME?
As I meditated on the challenge, and as God wrote His message to me…I am so humbled. Oh, He had spoken…so gently and tenderly, but with conviction and surety. He had been speaking, and now I could hear. And see.
Ten or eleven years ago, my marriage was not yet revealed to be utterly decimated, yet it was dry and disconnected and really unsatisfying. It was something I cried out to Him about. Please, God…please fix my marriage. Create intimacy and love between us.
Nothing. No amount of Bible study or prayer or me being nice or me being mean or me being detached or me being anything could make my husband care. He was nice enough. Never cussed at me or told me he hated me or treated me openly with contempt. Just didn’t care…enough to ask me about me. Or stroke my heart. Or cup my face and tell me I was beautiful. There was the perfunctory “you look nice tonight” when we headed off to this event or that affair, and there was the routine sex on mutually convenient nights (not to be confused with the other nights when we worked really hard not to touch at all in bed lest something be misconstrued). There was the peck on the cheek as he headed off to work and the I love you occasionally. There were the cards at holidays and the presents at birthdays and Christmas but there was also the subtle passive aggressive comments and the forgetting to share important information and the later than made sense nights and the always-wanting-to-do-something-with-his-friends-but-only-if-it-was-okay-with-me-sort-of. But not wanting-to-do-something-with-me. Maybe I was expecting too much?
I had cried out to God and decided either my marriage was my lot in life, or God just couldn’t…or wouldn’t…hear me. Because I didn’t really, like the rest of His children did, matter. It was just a tiny thought that I let flit through my head but never landed on… Maybe I wasn’t r e a l l y loved by God…my secret…
Then our youngest son, about ten, found a little, baby squirrel. His fresh and hopeful eyes longingly begged us, well, me, to take care of this squirrel who’d obviously been abandoned by his family. So I, well, we (son and I) did. We made him a soft bed and searched the internet for how to care for him. We fed him and stroked him and played with him and for three days he THRIVED.
The fourth day, he was ailing. Son was devastated and brought him to me, asking me to make him better. I searched google, and called a vet friend. The vet was willing to see him, but had to travel back and told us to meet him at the house in the early afternoon. I held that baby squirrel in my hands. I stroked him gently. Sitting in my living room with a great big window looking out at our backyard covered in trees and beauty and many other squirrels, I began to pray for God to save this baby squirrel. I told him I needed Him to show me that He could. That He would. That He heard me. That He cared. For the squirrel. For me. Tears…streaming down my face and I sobbed and cried out to God to let me know that we, that I, mattered.
The squirrel died.
I wrote God off that day. Not G-O-D, but my God. You know, the God that supposedly knew me and loved me. It was clear either He wasn’t who they said He was, or I wasn’t one of His beloved, because what Father could just turn His back on His child, crying out. Sobbing, begging. And what about that scripture that talks about ask, and you shall receive. What about the scripture that declares He won’t leave or forsake you. What about the scripture that says He wept? Yea, well, that God sure wasn’t around for me. Again, I didn’t tell anyone, but I just decided that I needed to take care of things from there on out, because for whatever reason, He wasn’t going to be on my team, or walking with me, or helping me. I didn’t quit BELIEVING, I just quit believing. If I ever did believe.
Fast forward to Israel. And all that has transpired between squirrel death and marriage death when I found out my 27 year married life had been a lie because my husband had entered our marriage lying, and lied during our marriage, and cheated numerous times, and wasn’t ever the man I thought I’d loved, or been pursued by or been pursuing. Fast forward to the healing and the intimacy that I now have both with that same husband who is the most incredibly amazing man and the God who I now know loves me enough that He took a cup that He didn’t want to take and became sin so that I could have life. And freedom. And love.
What was my lesson, what had God spoken to me on this journey, this pilgrimage to Israel?
It was the stones. I saw the stones, everywhere I went. I saw big stones and little stones. I saw roads made of raw stones and hewn stones. Of carefully laid stones and of haphazardly laid stones.
And I saw how God had specifically and intentionally placed stones of all kinds and shapes and sizes on every single step of my life. Stones who were people. Stones of encouragement and truth and love and care. Stones of honesty and confrontation and challenge and faith. Even though I could not see them then, they were there. Laid, no, carefully and perfectly placed, by Him in love and devotion for me to mark and guide and provide on the path of my journey. To make sure that I was not left, or forsaken. To make sure that I got what I needed when I needed it. To give me what I asked for. Stones that have faces and names and hearts and souls and are literally my journey and inextricably His perfect love, for me.
So, my dear faith leader who challenged me to search…I found the answer. Israel, God, showed me with intimate and specific detail that I was loved by Him. Every. Step. Of. The. Way. He showed me His care for me never, ever stopped. I am overwhelmed with understanding and seeing relentless love, for me, by Him, through so many. So grateful, so humbled, and so determined to live the rest of my life being a stone on life journeys at the beckoning of my Father.