In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
The sun was already low in the sky when my cousin, Debbie, and I set out for our after-work walk on the farm where we grew up. With an eight-year gap in our ages, we didn’t experience childhood as playmates. But for this season in our lives, we are close companions. With both of us being single, it has been nice to have someone to recount the ups and downs of the day with — nicer still to hear her childhood stories and memories of our beloved grandparents.
Both of us are on a quest to slim down, so we walk briskly to shed the pounds, but on this evening I think our pace was more about outlasting the sinking sun. Quickly, we passed the cow pasture and then paused at the electric fence obstructing our passage to the bay. What now?
We enjoy the peaceful view of the water and have made it our goal to reach the shoreline, if only for a brief moment, to breathe in a little bit of heaven before turning back toward the barnyard. Neither one of us wanted to forego that moment.
Debbie knew what to do, but with the arthritic state of her hands, she didn’t have the strength to perform the task. Having previously been shocked by the fence, I had never even gone close to it again and surely never had I attempted to unhook it. But the desire to get to our piece of heaven was greater than my fear that night. So, I switched the wristlet, which held my house key, to my left wrist (didn’t want a repeat of a Ben Franklin experiment!). Then with my right hand and Debbie’s coaxing, I carefully unhooked each of the three sections of fence and placed it on the ground. Woo hoo! I completed the task with nary a spark.
Cautiously we stepped through to the other side and continued on our way, rounding the fields, and then cutting through the beans all the way to our glimpse of heaven. Just as we knew, the beauty of the moment was worth the risk of electric shock. We stood for a moment, taking in the still blue expanse and allowing a calm to wash over us. With sunlight quickly disappearing, we made the moment shorter than usual and turned around toward the fence.
Once again, Debbie coaxed me through the process. “First, the yellow one,” she said, referring to the color-coded handles. “Then the pink one.”
When I had successfully secured the red one, she said, “We’ll make you into a farm girl yet.”
I chuckled at her statement for I knew it meant more than the obvious. I grew up on this farm, but I never was a farm girl. I had dreams of something more. I remember working in the sweltering field one summer morning, topping tobacco plants. With sweat beading from every pore, bugs pestering me like crazy and clothes sticking to me like tobacco resin itself, I cursed as I furiously slashed the flowered tops, for there was nothing pretty about those posies. With every swing, I vowed to leave this farm, to move far, far away to the big city to become a business woman.
I wonder if God chuckled at me then. The Bible says, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” (Proverbs 16:9 NIV).
While I did move away and work in the business field for some time, I found myself back on the farm after the breakup of my stormy marriage. Having suffered bouts of abuse for more than a decade, I finally had enough.
And while I’d like to say I held on so long because it was the Christian thing to do, truly I think it was fear that kept me bound — fear of failure and fear of the unknown.
If I left, how would I make it on my own? How would I make ends meet? Could I handle being alone, raising my children by myself?
When the pain of the present became greater than the fear of the unknown, I escaped its clutches and found safe haven on the farm, surrounded by my supportive, loving family. Beat down, worn out and overwhelmed, I was grateful for the green pastures I found on the farm, a quiet healing place of restoration for my soul (Psalm 23:2-3).
But I thought my stay would be temporary, just long enough to regain my bearings. Little did I know I would raise my children in this tenant farmer house and see each of them fly the coop, and still here I am — 20 years later, alone.
Over and over again I’ve prayed and questioned, “Why am I still here? Why, Lord, have You not seen fit to give me my own house? Why has remarriage not been in Your plans for me all these years?”
But those weren’t my thoughts this evening. They were more on my victory over the fear of the electric fence, which in turn sparked a conversation between Debbie and me about her fear of storms. I remembered our grandmother shared the same fear, how she moved away from windows at the first sign of lightning and sat out every storm in the foyer that separated the two sides of the big farmhouse, trembling and wringing her hands till the rumbling stopped. Debbie remembered how, on occasion, she too would sit out those storms with Grummamma.
Are fears the result of how we are raised? Do parents pass on their fears to their children? Or are fears the result of past experiences?
Debbie was quick to give her opinion. “Experiential,” she said, recounting a violent storm that drew lightning into her childhood home, shooting sparks through electric sockets and destroying appliances.
I had to agree, as I recalled my fear of the electric fence was a result of my previous experience with shock.
I also remembered my gut-wrenching fear of saying goodbye to my daughter, Emma, her husband, Ricky, and their baby daughter, Layla, two years ago (almost to the day). They had been living with me temporarily, and Layla had been born during that time. Then Ricky got hired as an associate pastor at a church 1 ½ hours away, and they had to move.
Suddenly, fear of the future, of being alone again, resurfaced. Flooding my mind were haunting flashbacks of those dark, lonely days after I said goodbye to Emma when she left for college, leaving me to live alone in the house for the first time ever. I remembered crying in the evenings when I opened the door to the cold, empty house. How could I handle this again?
And this time I would have to also say goodbye to two new family members, who I had grown to love so dearly.
Yes, Pastor, was right when he said in a recent sermon, that fear of the future is really fear of the past, fear that it will repeat itself.
Daylight had drawn the drapes by the time Debbie and I completed our circuit, ending our walk right where we began. Two silhouettes in the barnyard garden got our attention. As our steps drew near, I recognized them as my farmer brother, Joe, and his wife, Katie, harvesting cabbage and broccoli.
I blurted out, “Guess what I did! I unhooked the electric fence!”
Joe was the one responsible for the fence, and when I previously begged him to remove it so we could walk through, he urged me to do it myself. Glad to hear of my courage, he rewarded me by offering a head of broccoli.
I couldn’t say no to my favorite vegetable and extended a hand, grabbing the head like a bouquet. I marveled at its size. Just two weeks prior, two-year-old Layla and I had walked between the rows of broccoli, and I had pointed out to her the sprouting heads cradled between the sturdy large leaves. How much they had grown!
“Thanks,” I said to Joe, as I turned to leave. “And thank you for the walk,” I called to Debbie.
She stopped me when she realized I had nothing to light my way. “Would you like me to drive you home?”
“No, I’ll be fine.”
Besides I wasn’t ready to say goodnight to this unseasonably balmy evening. I bounded down the knoll between her house and mine, a light breeze brushing at my cheeks and leaves swirling around me like tiny ballerinas. I couldn’t help but join them in the dance.
Balancing my broccoli bouquet in my right hand and swinging my left, I kicked up my heels, like a bride on her wedding day. I laughed when I thought how silly I must look.
Who does this? A farm girl, maybe?
As I neared the pond painted with the fiery afterglow of the sunset, I heard a familiar November sound.
Honk! Honk! I lifted my eyes and spotted a flock of Canada geese in typical V-formation returning to the farm, their winter home. They too have completed their circuit. I smiled as I turned into my lane, my steps illumined by a beacon of light cast from the golden pond.
I entered my back door and flipped the light switch. From inside my bright kitchen, the outside looked so dark, scary even.
I thought, “It didn’t seem so dark when I was out there. Is it really that black?”
I stepped back out onto the deck and looked up into the evening sky. It wasn’t black at all — and it wasn’t scary. It had just been my perspective from the inside looking out.
As I stood beneath that deep blue canopy, peace enveloped me like a soft, warm blanket.
My heart full, I breathed in deeply, then settled into a chair whispering a prayer, “Thank You, God, for this moment, for making the darkness bright. I am so blessed — to be here, on this farm, surrounded by all this beauty. Forgive me for whining in the past, for doubting You. You knew what You were doing all along. Your plans are not my plans, but they’re the best ones for me (Jeremiah 29:11). Thank You for Your protection and provision all these years, for placing loved ones in my path to coax, support and sit out the storms with me. Thank You for giving me the courage to walk through the aftershock, for directing my steps, and lighting my way (Isaiah 60:19).
“Thank You for your abiding presence through all the scariest, darkest moments of my life (Exodus 33:14) and for using those times to teach me, shape me and grow me like a head of broccoli. My, how much I’ve grown!”
Perhaps you are going through the blackest of nights right now. Perhaps you fear the future. Remember, my beloved, that He is with you through it all. He will never leave you, nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6). There may be times when you question what He is doing, but He has everything under control. And He will work all things together for good (Romans 8:28).
So, in this season of Thanksgiving, let us give thanks in — and for our circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18), knowing they are only light and momentary compared to eternity (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Through it all, God is teaching us and growing us into who He wants us to be (Romans 5:3-5). Let us trust Him as He directs our steps.
Our walk, no matter how dark, no matter how scary, will end in Glory!
The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. (Proverbs 4:18 ESV)
The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. (Psalm 37:23 NLT)
I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. (Psalm 34:4-5 NIV)
Desiree’s blog can be accessed at http://www.desireeglass.blogspot.com
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Desiree has attended Calvary Grace for 20 years. She is in her 12th year as a Career & Technology Education Teacher at Chopticon High School in St. Mary’s County. Her blogging career began in 2009, and she has written for numerous publications and Web sites such as Guideposts, Christiandevotions.us, Pen In Hand (Maryland Writers Association publication), Connections (College of Southern Maryland literary magazine), First Place 4 Health’s national newsletter, Dragonfly magazine and The Times-Crescent newspaper in Charles County.