Today, July 17th, 2015, is a day I will never forget.
It's one of those days you mark in your memory. A day where, after years have gone by, you can look back and remember, because of how you felt, and how it changed you.
I have had many such days, just as we all do. The day I asked Jesus in my heart was October 10th, 1986. The day I got married was June 19th, 1999. The day I became a mother was March 27th, 2002. The day my sister died unexpectedly on the mission field was August 18th, 2010.
There are also longer times, of testing or happiness or or struggle or rest, times that shape who we are but can't be boiled down to one certain date. I have many of those as well. And today, in the early hours of the morning, I have been awakened by the remembering of one such time in my life. Almost like the Lord poked me and whispered, "Get up, we need to spend some time in the past, so that we are prepared for the present."
When I was 17 years old, I was doing a year long internship at a missions organization. I was a high school graduate, a girl who just KNEW the world was at her fingertips. And, because I arrogantly believed it might make a difference to know some answers to some future questions, I began to ask the Lord to show me the vision, plan, destiny, purpose, for my life. And, because He is all knowing and wise, He did NOT give me the answers I sought. He did, however, give me an answer.
"Are you willing to do anything I ask of you, anything at all, if it is My will?"
"Even if I ask you to never get married and to never have children? Will you choose to be devoted to Me and Me alone? If that is My plan for you?"
I won't bore you with the details of my end of the conversation. Let's just go ahead and acknowledge that it wasn't pretty, or spiritual, or even very nice. It basically boiled down to two sentences.
"Heck no. I'm not doing that."
But the question kept coming back, for months, every time I prayed.
"Do you love Me most? More than anything? Whatever I ask of you, will you open your hands to Me, and let me shape the path your life follows?"
There was a battle in my heart, let me tell you. Everything I had ever dreamed of and wanted in my entire life, I was now faced with the possibility of laying it down, giving it up, letting it die. WHY would God ask this of me? WHY had I ever asked God what His will was in the first place?
It was like being two different people. The spiritual version of myself who KNEW that God's plan and will for me were best, and FOR my best, and the version of myself that was kicking and screaming and selfishly wanting to have it ALL. God's will for me, AND all my dreams for my life.
Eventually, too exhausted in spirit and smart enough to know He had won from the beginning, I "gave in" to the request the Lord made of me. I agreed to His terms. (It's funny for me to say it like that, because I now understand that it wasn't as much about agreeing to never marry or have children, if that was what He asked of me. It was really only about realizing that He wanted my LIFE, all of me, everything, with nothing, not one thing, held back from Him. I agreed to THAT, and I am quite certain if the God of the Universe had told me what the path would really look like...it wouldn't have been a pill I could swallow.)
Those months as a 17 year old shaped me dramatically, and I knew it then, but I had NO IDEA just how that time of wrestling with God would affect the 17 years since.
It comes back periodically, that time of struggle. He reminds me. "Open your hands to me, little girl. My way is best. Trust me."
When I was pregnant with my daughter, God whispered to my heart again. "Appointed." And I knew He was talking about the baby. And so I held my breath, and I watched, and I waited, and I tried so hard to hold her loosely, because I knew God had something special for her, and that it would require me to keep my hands open. And sometimes they shook, and sometimes they closed tightly, but He has been gentle with me over the 13 years of her life so far, and He reminds me patiently that His hands are a better place for her anyway, and I find, despite my heart's racing, that my hands open slowly once again.
When we received word that my sister, my very first roommate, my sweet friend and playmate, wouldn't live through the sudden brain injury that had befallen her...my hands clenched. SO tightly that my fingernails cut into my palms. Literally. I curled my whole body AROUND my hands, laying in the floor of my bedroom, and I said "No. No. NO. NOO."
And my daughter and sons sat beside me. And they wept with me, and they watched my struggle. They saw how I didn't want His will. And my son prayed, "Lord, we really want Aunt Joy to live. But You do what's best, Lord."
And it was that little voice, so trusting, that brought the Holy Spirit's reminder. And I won't pretend that I opened my hands, but I at least remembered, in that moment, that He was still with me and still working and still sovereign and still good, and that His hands were the best place for my sister to be.
And then she died. Plucked from our hands for the rest of this earthly life, and transplanted into our futures in eternity.
And I bet, if you asked my daughter about a time of struggle and growth in her life, she would mention those months after we lost Joy. They changed her. She grew up more than any 8 year old should have to. She was burdened by her own sadness, and the self-proclaimed protector of her mama. She was so brave and strong during that time.
And, at night, she started to pray. "What now Lord? I have to do something? What do I do now?"
Today...this is the day she is finally able to step out and DO what the Lord dropped into her heart to do almost 5 years ago.
Today my daughter becomes a missionary like her aunt Joy, the bravest girl I ever knew. My little baby, my appointed child, is packed and ready.
And my hands are shaking.
And they periodically clench into fists.
And my heart is filled with panic. But also...also, my heart is filled with gratitude.
Because the Lord set a path before me, a path that would require hard things, and He began preparing me for them slowly, instead of all at once, and He has been with me even when I wanted to refuse what He asked.
And my path has been the same as my daughter's for 13 years. We've held hands through much of the journey.
But she's taking a little side path now. Her feet have been itching for this for a long time. And she's as ready as one can ever be before they step out into something new that the Lord has called them to do.
I'm not ready.
At least, I don't feel ready.
But the Lord woke me early, and He reminded me about my hands...and, metaphorically, I open them back up to Him.
Because she's safer in His hands anyway.
And the terror that grips me comes from understanding, from living through, the truth that God's plan, and His will, always require hard things of us. Because that's how we learn that He is MORE than we ever knew. The lives that my sister, Joy, would've impacted if she had lived beyond the age of 26, are far less than the lives that have been and will be impacted as a result of her death, and her story being told.
And my daughter, my Faith...she's part of that. And God knew it when He whispered "appointed" to me all those years ago. I'm glad He didn't tell me about August 18th, 2010. I'm glad He didn't tell me about today.
Today I will smile, and I will french braid her hair for the flight, and I will kiss her, and I will remind her to drink lots of water and take lots of pictures...and my hands will tremble.
But I won't tell her not to go. I'm proud of her for going. Her God asked her to open her hands to Him, and she is obeying. I couldn't be any more proud.
"Go get 'em, baby girl."
That's what I will tell her.
And she will.
And we will both remember this day...forever.