Late last Saturday after everyone else was fast asleep I found myself wide awake, tears streaming down my face, and consumed by a fear that I had never experienced in my life…
Earlier that day my family and I were exploring the Union Square area of NYC. One of the places we went to was the Grace Episcopal Church.
We stopped in our tracks right when we laid our eyes on it – the soaring steeple peaks painted across blue skies, the chime of church bells echoing down Broadway Avenue, the Gothic design & architecture that draws you into a state of reverence…It was one of the most stunning cathedrals I had ever seen!
And when we spotted a sign welcoming people in to pray, we decided to go in and check it out – even if we had little, or no, intention of actually praying! We just wanted to take a look and maybe get some good pictures!
(Gasp!) I know, we are hoodlums. But it’s probably best you know that about us right off the bat anyway! 😉
When we walked inside, we were both awestruck by the captivating beauty of it’s architecture.
It’s splendor almost demanded that you pray! And believe me, when a church with ceilings that tall demands you pray, you do what you are told!
We walked down the aisle nearing the front, there stood an easel with an old prayer book open to a page where many others had written out their prayers before us.
Dear Heavenly Father,
I pray that you use us in New York City
We are willing…
Might seem like a simple prayer to you, but for me it was an offering of complete surrender – one that I had made years before when we first began our ministry back in Washington.
5 years later, I can remember the exact moment the plane lifted off and soared over the sun setting on the Columbia River as our flight left Washington and we headed for our new lives (and ministry awaiting us) in NYC. I recall looking down at all the lights twinkling below and remembering each relationship we were leaving behind, and reminiscing each moment that my husband and I were able to see God work in miraculous ways during the years we served there.
I remember rubbing my tired eyes in an attempt to disguise the tears grazing my cheeks, but truthfully there was no denying the emptiness my husband and I both felt.
It was as if our hearts were left back on the runway…
We had given everything we had to the community we lived in – walking people through their lingering questions about the Lord, supporting couples as they struggled through conflicts within their marriages, unexpectedly visiting families in the hospital, or making home visits to those who had suddenly lost a loved one. We even did the best we could to walk alongside our church last summer as we, together, faced an unimaginable tragedy.
We would have had it no other way – leaving our hearts back in Washington – but as our plane lifted higher into the air I questioned whether I had anything left to offer the people of New York.
Having spent my life in the “ministry business” as both a pastor’s kid and then a pastor’s wife, I was all too familiar with the fact that serving the Lord in full time ministry – no matter where the location – required nothing less than what Jesus so graciously gave until his very last breath. Everything.
Ultimately, I knew that God could use us in New York City just as he had in Washington.
We just had to be willing.
It was about an hour or two after our visit to the Grace Episcopal Church, that we met up with Rachel and David for the remainder of our day. And while the guys were in a nearby store, Rachel and I stood outside on the street, our little girls giggling and eating snacks in their strollers, as we caught up on each other’s new lives on the east coast.
At some point during our conversation a young man approached us casually asking for 25 cents to help him go buy some liquor in the store next door.
We apologetically told him we didn’t have anything and casually dismissed his request while joking among ourselves that at least he was honest.
He disappeared for a few minutes and then returned suddenly once again only to ask again, this time a little more desperately, and for $1.00. Although we could both sense something wasn’t right, we politely denied his request and told him once again that we had nothing to give him.
We went on with our conversation, only to have him come back once again!
This time coming a little closer, a little more aggressively, and now asking for $2.00! Rachel could see him eyeing my purse…
(What happened next would shock anyone that knows me really well…)
Although I’m known for being deathly afraid of confrontation, I very calmly but boldly called the man out!
“Excuse me, you have asked us 3 times for money! We don’t have anything, so you need to leave us alone now.”
He argued with me, so again I respond, this time more sternly, “You need to walk away right now!”
I remember him saying something along the lines of how he didn’t like the tone of my voice.
“Would you like me to go get my husband? ” I snapped, as I motioned to the store he was in.
It was obvious that the request infuriated him but I continued, “If you don’t walk away RIGHT NOW I am going to go inside and go get my husband!”
His yelling became louder but he indeed started to walk away…
And then luck would have it that at that exact moment, both of our husbands popped up right behind us as they were exiting the store they had been shopping in.
The smiles on their faces and their light conversation were interrupted by Rachel’s attempt to quickly fill them in about what had unfolded, all while the persistent man stood a good 15 feet behind us, still watching every move we made.
The man then quickly ran up behind the guys, and started yelling and cursing at them – specifically at David, and directly in his face! I can remember clearly the look of terror on Rachel’s face as we attempted to walk in the opposite direction only to have him follow us and make physical threats that could only be made out of pure rage and insanity!
All this while pushing our precious baby girls in their strollers!
The man let up at some point…How long it took?? I don’t know.
And I will admit, I was the first to dismiss it humorously apologizing for all of the “loonies” in NYC and reassuring them – and quite honestly myself – that moments like these don’t happen often around here.
But once the night had come to an end and I crawled into bed with what should have been a heart filled with the joy after sharing an amazing day with my closest friends, I was instead consumed with an immense fear that I couldn’t shake. I felt almost haunted by the clear image of the man’s face.
I could hear the intensity in his voice rising, the tension increasing…
Coming closer…and closer as he spoke.
I could see his eyes on my purse…
And I found myself left with one lingering question ”Did I do the right thing confronting him?”
And then thinking of my purse, or even worse, our baby girls – I pondered the even scarier question, “What if I hadn’t?”
The fear within me swelled to the point that the tears flowed freely down my face.
In the darkness of our room, I felt my husbands arms wrap around me. He held his hand to my cheek, sadly confirming the tears that he sensed, and he began a prayer of thankfulness to the Lord for keeping us safe and then requested protection over my dreams that night.
I savored the solace that his touch and the comfort of his words brought – but only for a moment.
Then I could feel an almost sinister thought remind me that the constant strength I found in my husband, the same undeniable faith that I had in my “back up plan” when I motioned to the store and threatened to go get him had that man refused to leave us alone, is the exact person – the same protection – that I would be without tomorrow.
My heart began racing as I thought back to countless other times in the last few months that fear began to make its way into my heart…
I remember watching the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings, and the security measures that were instantly put in place in New York City because of it, only serving as a reminder that my new home is so often the “bull’s-eye” on the target for those looking to create a catastrophic attack against our nation.
I also remember the day after the bombings, before it was revealed that there was a planned attack on New York City, my husband arrived to his office a little over a block away from Times Square where he saw swarms of police officers wearing tactical gear and holding machine guns.
Throughout the day I recall praying to the point of tears for my husband’s safety.
Even last weekend, while taking the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty, take in the scenic views, and snapping family pictures in front of the city skyline we were eerily escorted back to Manhattan by the US Coast Guard boat wielding a machine gun due to “heightened security”.
I didn’t realize it, but over the past 3 months my fear had been surmounting!
If I’m to be honest, in that moment curled up in my bed, my heart did not portray the same willingness I had offered up to the Lord just hours before.
Basking in the Cathedral’s grandeur, the sunlight reflecting down through the faceted stain glass and the stillness that seemed to offer the perfect environment to embrace the Lord’s divine presence, it made it almost simple to offer Him all that I knew He deserved from me.
But in a quick moment of complete chaos, when the glamour and bright lights had faded, and the city has reared it’s ugly face, it became difficult for me to stand by my words and continue to be wholly surrendered to the city that the Lord had so clearly called me and my family to.
While restlessly tossing and turning that night, John 10:10 came to mind,
[Satans] purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. [The Lord’s] purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
Without a doubt, I know that the Lords purpose for us is to live a rich and satisfying life – a life ‘worthy of a story‘ like we had talked about previously – but what I failed to grasp was that there are forces oftentimes working equally as hard to destroy the same plans the Lord has so intricately and amazingly designed for our lives.
Those plans are perfectly outlined in Jeremiah 29:11 when the Lord says He has “plans to prosper you, and not to harm you. To give you hope and a future.”
As I meditated on these verses, I realized that the same fear that had suddenly taken a hold of me was also threatening to steal, kill, and destroy ‘the good story’ the Lord was rooting for me to live!
I love the way Joyce Meyer’s defines fear: “Feeling fear is simply the temptation to run away from what we should face and confront. I learned that I had to stop running and stand still long enough to see what God would do for me if I let my faith in Him be larger than my fears”
No matter how great or how small the fears you are currently facing in your life right now – whether it’s fear for your safety or for the safety of the ones around you, fear that the Lord wont be able to provide for your every need, even the fear that you aren’t smart enough, beautiful enough, or successful enough – whatever it is, I pray that instead of believing the lies of the enemy and cowering down in fear by running from our insecurities, that together, we would have the courage to seek out the rich and satisfying life that only the Lord can offer!
God desires to use us in miraculous ways,
We only have to be willing…
To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do -to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst- is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you, that is more wonderful still.
The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed, secures your life also against being opened up and transformed. – Beth Moore