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Reclaiming God's Gifts

Winter 2011
PAGES 5, 6

Questions and adventure have always coexisted in my life. My mother will tell you I've always had a lot of questions. Once I learned to talk, she patiently endured my incessant ponderings and propositions. An event from my early childhood illustrates the wondering soul God placed within me. I was five and loved to play in the woods between my house and the family dairy farm. On one wooded adventure I discovered an injured bird quivering in the dirt. Terrified and broken, it tried to regain use of its body. As I knelt down to hold the damaged creature, I remembered a verse I memorized for Sunday school: "Do not be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows" (Matt. 10:31). I held the vulnerable bird until it stopped quivering. Returning the creature to the dirt, I cried as I wondered why the bird had to die.

The Holy Spirit continued to cultivate my childhood faith and even began to call me to ministry. I recall sitting on a pile of hay as an eight-year-old, reading Isaiah 43 and the Belgic Confession to a herd of Holsteins. The black and white giants took in my first sermons as they happily chewed their dinner for the second time. They, too, tolerated my incessant ponderings and propositions. Still today, if nerves shake me while preaching, I picture an uncomplaining herd of Holsteins.

Just as the questions came as gifts from God, so did my zeal for life. Every once in a while my brain, needing a break from its seriousness, would embark on an adventure in a novel or on my horse. I loved galloping bareback and without reigns through open fields. I gleefully urged my mare to run faster, clinging only to her thin mane and the hope that she would stop when I shouted, "Whoa!" I didn't know it then, but I would soon need reminders of that joy of being an embodied creature.

Somehow, fear gained access to my heart, quenching my love of adventure. I even started reading novels differently. I could not bear the unknown tension or trouble in a story. I flipped to the end of every story and read the end first. But this didn't work in real life, and that frustrated me. In high school, fear burrowed deeper into my heart, conquering my zeal for life. Rather than spending energy on asking questions or running through fields, I spent it on rules. I made rules to control everything: the hours I spent studying, every calorie I consumed, each mile I ran. Every moment of every day was carefully measured, until I lay in a hospital bed terrified and broken, praying that I would die.

It was in this most vulnerable place that the Spirit once again whispered, "Do not fear, you are worth more than many sparrows." A Scripture that had once troubled me now brought solace. The shadows of depression and fear were persistent, but so was God. As I lay in the hospital bed imagining myself at home in the safety of hay and Holsteins, a nurse walked up to my bed. When his kind eyes met my hollow gaze he whispered, "Isaiah 43," and then left the room. Choking on tears, I opened my Bible and read, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you I ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."

Indeed, God was with me, and he continued to illuminate the darkness. My family, friends, and church family encircled me in prayer and carried me back to the land of the living. My love for theological inquiry was encouraged at Kuyper College, and my passion for adventure was restored as I spent summers working road construction. God continues to restore me through wise mentors, good friends, and Calvin Theological Seminary.

A couple years ago I practiced my first real sermon from a pile of hay in front of the Holsteins. They listened contentedly, mooing an occasional "Amen." As I sat staring at the black and white giants, once again the words of Isaiah 43 rushed through my mind: "'You are my witnesses,' declares the Lord, 'and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the Lord and apart from me there is no savior.'" Intrigued by the continued presence of this Scripture in my life, I called my mom to once again consume her time with my questions. It was then that she told me that when she was pregnant with me God gave her that Scripture. Before I was even born she began to pray that Isaiah 43 would be true of my life. I hung up the phone and returned to that passage in Isaiah. "'I [God] have revealed and saved and proclaimed—I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,' declares the Lord, 'that I am God. Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?'"

God has acted faithfully in every stage in my life. With a wedding ceremony in the recent past and graduation from Calvin Theological Seminary in the near future, I am learning to live zealously in the story, joyfully embodied. I don't know where or when my story will end, but I know the end of God's story. This knowledge gives me courage to live through the tension, joy for the adventure, and faith that the work God began on one wooded adventure many years ago he will certainly make complete, for my good and for his glory.