100,000 Miles

This past weekend, my eleven-year-old car hit its 100,000 mile mark.  Since this is my first car, and I’ve had it since about mile 0, this was a big
occasion for us.100000 miles 2

This car is an answer to prayer.  God was so gracious to answer my prayer – and doing so in a way that showed He didn’t need my help at all. Maybe that’s why I am so fond of this little car.  I made it through my first year of college without a car, depending on friends for rides to my teaching practicums, church, and the grocery store.  After my first year, I realized that, with the many teaching practicums ahead, I would need my own car. I started saving like crazy and putting almost every penny from my summer job towards a car. I scoured the ads to see what I could get for a couple thousand dollars. I figured that my parents wouldn’t be happy with the car I bought for $2,000, or that I had bought one behind their backs since we agreed I would not get a car in college, but I was desperate for a car.  As I worked, saved, and searched, I prayed fervently for God to provide a car. One night as I was working, a car pulled up to the drive-thru and rang the bell.  I opened the window and saw my parents in a little blue car. I immediately burst into tears, because I thought this meant I got to have our gray Lumina minivan – and I was so happy!  Little did I know that in response to my prayers, God had planted in the minds of my parents (without our discussing the matter) that I needed a car.  One day mom woke up with the urgent thought, “Katie needs a car.”  When she talked with Dad, unsure of what he would say, he responded that he had wakened with the exact same urgent message.  And I got the blue car.

As a dedication, I prayed that God would use my car in his service to help with others’ needs as a reminder that he had met mine.  100,000 miles later, God has faithfully brought friendships that I will forever value in response to that prayer. He has shown deliverance by sparing it in a tornado (with a little roof fixing), allowing it to be covered in ash only – and no more – from a fire, and working in each blown tire so that I was never stranded.

Now, we are on a summer road trip that, so far, has included Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas.  Tomorrow we plan to add another state or two, Lord willing.

So, happy birthday, little buddy. And thanks to God for his provision and protection.

… his mercies never come to an end;  they are new every morning… Lam. 3:22-23

The Heart of the Single Woman’s Home: Fear and Safety (blog series part 6/8)

Psalm 4:8, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

Proverbs 29:35 The fear of man lays a snare,
                         but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.

A godly woman is called to be fearless.  A quiet heart, which in God’s sight is very precious, is not in a tither of worry (1 Peter 3:4). Married women are called to fearless submission to their husbands.  Should not a single woman submit fearlessly to her Creator? The call to “do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6) is a call to every woman, because her hope is in her God (1 Peter 3:5).

Physical Safety and Fear

As a single woman living and working on my own, safety can feel like a constant burden.  I am often tempted to worry about safety… and I often give in.  If I want to justify my worry, I can draw up a long list from headlines around the world and from personal experiences of my friends, family, and myself.  For example, one night, my roommate and I came home at 11 p.m. to find someone had broken into our apartment.  While nothing came of it, the invasion of privacy, of knowing someone was in my home and I didn’t know what they had done, gave me a sense of violation that I hadn’t felt before.  There was the fear that it was actually a neighbor. Or maybe it was a former resident who had kept a copy of the key. Would they come back? Had they left hidden cameras?  Had they done terrible things to my toothbrush? We threw away all our open bottles and asked the apartment office to transfer apartments. This was the year we started using a home security system.

Maybe that’s what comes of single girls being too independent and moving away.  Maybe I’m supposed to wait until I get married. Was I being too independent? My thoughts started sounding like some circles of thought that depend more on the teaching of tradition, and not Scripture. Living with parents or away from them is only a sin if discontentment, rebellion, fear, or hate fuels those decisions. While my roommate and I prayerfully took the next steps, and lived with my parents for another month before a new apartment was available, the mercies and graces of the situation became more apparent to us. We had not been hurt.  Our loved ones were not hurt.  An unknown someone(s) had sinned against us.  We didn’t know how or why this had happened or even all that had happened.  But God knew. And He provided our safety.  We only had to keep trusting and He kept providing.

For me, I can fuel my discontent in singleness by dwelling on the perceived protection a husband could provide.  While I do take more precautions now, I realize that precautions will not keep me safe.  A locked door is not omnipotent, neither is a husband.  My safety doesn’t depend on the quality of my security system.  God wants me to trust Him to give protection.

My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:2

When I am strong in this dependence, I can find myself feeling rather haughty against my married friends who confess that they are afraid when their husband isn’t home for the evening because they aren’t used to being alone.  I think I appear to listen patiently, however my thoughts are in a darker place. ‘Welcome to my world,’ I think smugly, ‘how would you like this to be your whole life?’ This pride is every bit as dangerous to my soul as my fear – perhaps even more so. My perceived strength in my perceived dependence on God is no refuge at all. Far from it, a haughty spirit comes before a fall. My ability to trust is a result of faith, which is a gift of God.  If my hope is in anything, it is not that I know I will be fine, but that God is good to me and that everything that comes to me can only come because He allows – even sends – it. My hope is in God Himself.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,

For my hope is from him.

He only is my rock and my salvation,

My fortress; I shall not be shaken.

On God rests my salvation and my glory;

My might rock, my refuge is God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;

Pour out your heart before him;

God is a refuge for us.   Psalm 62: 5-8

Like all other sins, however, fear is persistent and keeps creeping back in. It comes whispering during the lonely nights my roommate is out of town.  When a possum rattles my window in the early hours of the morning, I am afraid. When I turn on the alarm and turn off the lights, I feel fear creep in behind me. Perhaps it is our cultural association with evil and darkness, but when the night hours roll in, evil seems more real to me than it does during the day.  Perhaps this very fear is a grace to help me remember that as real as fears may be, God is more real. As strong as they are, He is stronger.  Plans made for evil, God uses for good.  In the dark hours, I realize that my hope is not in a fairy tale ending, but in the Creator of the Universe Himself. His promises and plan endure whatever evil there is in the world.  He cannot be thwarted.  And He uses the whispers of fear to make me cling to his promises in his word.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 56, which was written by David when the Philistines had captured him in Gath:

When I am afraid,

            I put my trust in you.

In God, whose word I praise,

            In God I trust; I shall not be afraid.

            What can flesh do to me? 56:3-4

David was in a dangerous place.  The man after God’s own heart was afraid. Notice the grace revealed through David’s admission: when I am afraid. God graciously works in his child to remove fear.  He commands us to fear not. And yet, He does not listen because I am fearless, but listens to my pleas when I am afraid.

Spiritual Fear

I often forget that the spirit world is every bit as real as the physical world.  In other countries Christians witness first hand demonic possession in people and even in places. In the USA, that is usually brushed aside and only entertained in horror films.  As real as spiritual terrors are, however, God is greater still. The Jesus who commanded the legion in Mark 5 still delivers from the legions oppressing his people.

In my first couple years of teaching, I had times of experiencing demonic nightmares. One particularly bad month, I cried almost every night before bed. I was exhausted, but I dreaded going to sleep. The images in my dreams were vivid and filled with a terribly dark and oppressive evil. The nightmares were keeping me from getting rested because I would wake every hour or two in a panic.  The only difference between the dreams and being awake was that I could no longer see the evil that terrified me when I awoke.  I could, however, still feel it near me in the dark, quiet room. This troubled me more than the dreams. After about an hour of crying and praying, I would fall back asleep.  Many nights, this process repeated itself as many as three times during the night.

When I was little, I remember calling out to my dad and mom after a bad dream.  The comfort of their loving arms and their prayers helped me go back to sleep.  As a grown single woman, I often wished that when I woke up from one of these nightmares that I could roll over, wake up a stronger person (i.e. my husband), and ask them to hold me until the fear went away. I may not have my parents or a husband in my house to calm me, but I have something even more beautiful and comforting. The God of all comfort did not need to be awakened, because he had never stopped his watch over me. I could pray scripture – His very words to me, put there be his spirit – until I fell asleep again.  I learned to trust deeply in the truths of Psalm 56:

You have kept count of my tossings;

            Put my tears in your bottle.

            Are they not in your book?

Then my enemies will turn back

            In the day when I call.

            This I know, that God is for me.

In God, whose word I praise,

            In the LORD, whose word I praise,

In God I trust; I shall not be afraid…

For you have delivered my soul from death,

            Yes, my feet from falling,

That I may walk before God

In the light of life.  Psalm 56: 8-11a, 13

 About a year after these occurrences, I didn’t have dreams, but the sound of footsteps and the presence of someone who wasn’t there consistently woke me up every morning about 2 am.  One of my roommates at the time wisely led us in prayer for God to protect the house so that no evil spirit could enter and that I would stop having nightmares and hearing noises.  The 2 am occurrence and nightmares never happened again.

Since then, it became a tradition on the first night in a new home, either alone or with my roommate, to walk through the home and pray over every room, specifically that the presence of God would fill the home, so that all human and spiritual powers could know that it belonged to Him alone.  I also started doing this with my classroom.  Through these experiences, God showed that my trust should not rest in a security system or a husband – although there is nothing wrong with those – but that the heart of my home should rest in His protecting presence.

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:2

Teaching on Grace

I saw a sign recently that read: this classroom runs on laughter, love, and lots of coffee.  While I still want a sign like that for my desk, I’ve also been reminded recently that my classroom runs on grace.  And mercy.

It’s only the second week into the new semester, but the crunch has already started.  Looming state assessments seem even more formidable after this week’s meetings.  So do the personal evaluations that start up again next week.  Then all the worries and questions start: Am I a good teacher?  Did I teach everything?  What if the students don’t do well?  What if I tank on an evaluation?  What if I’ve already failed?  What if?  What if? What if?  It’s like finals’ week in college — only I feel responsible for the finals of 24 other people as well as my own.

So, where do grace and mercy come in?

Earlier this week, I taught a community ESL class.  I prepared for it, ate dinner, and dashed out the door.  With the wrong bag.  I showed up five minutes late with no handouts, no visual aids, no TE, no pens, and, worst of all, no dry erase markers.  I leaned my head against the door frame of the car.  “Why, God?” I groaned.  It felt like another try-but-fail.  Racking my brain about what to do, I walked in the building.  The director of the program greeted me as I came in a steered me toward a desk organizer he had acquired this week.  It was stocked with dry erase markers.  And paper.  And pens.  And was I ever grateful.  I went to the classroom and greeted my students.  As I turned to the board with one of the new markers, it hit me like an audible voice: “This is what you are teaching on — grace and mercy.  You don’t always see it, but it’s there.  That marker in your hand is providence.”

God had just given me a dry erase marker.

I don’t know what amazed me more, the gift or that God cared enough about the state of my complaining little heart to mercifully bring this to my attention.

Don’t get me wrong.  God isn’t there to smooth over my mistakes.  But He does always supply me with grace and mercy.  Even if it’s not in the way that I want it to come, it’s there.  Even when I feel like I’m scrambling, the strength comes from Him.  The will to try again comes from Him.  A positive evaluation comes from Him for my good.  A negative evaluation does, too.

So do dry erase markers.

If the One who made the sun, moon, and stars noticed my need and supplied me with something that is smaller than my hand and costs about $1, then there is nothing He will overlook.

…for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  Matthew 6:8

and

… your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  Matthew 6:32