Trusting God means putting yourself in situations where if he doesn't come through, you're really in trouble.
It means stepping out on weak and even fragile limbs knowing he'll support your weight and not not allow them to break, sending you plummeting to the ground.
Trusting God means knowing he has your best interests in mind, that he will catch you in midair as you fly. When you need to be caught. And when you need to fly, knowing he'll lift your wings higher with his wind.
Trusting God can mean walking fields of lions.
It can mean walking away.
I had to get to this place on my farm. A place of total trust. A place where I could walk with roaring lions. A place where I could walk away. When you live on the wild frontier with a bunch of animals, every day is a life or death battle. Every day. Especially when your heart is tender. Tender hearts make for troubled minds in the wilderness.
I was reminded of this a few days ago when I returned home to find our German Shepherd, Yulie, (German for Julie) had passed away in my absence. She hadn't come to the gate to greet me upon my arrival back home that morning--tail wagging, turning around and around in circles, running out to the road, then back to block my vehicle and alongside it as I negotiated around her and our black lab, Daisy, up the drive.
I'd pulled into the garage and gone looking for her. I found her right away, in her usual spot by the back door, in a deep sleep. However, when I touched her, I realized she'd been gone for hours, already turned to stone. It looked as if she had died in her sleep. But why? She was perfectly healthy, relatively young, and the weather had been nice. I'd let her out of the house when I'd gotten up and made coffee that morning and she'd skipped with energy to the door, tail wagging, to be let out.
She'd left us in her favorite place, in peace, it appeared. I have that order in myself, when it's my time. "The perfect way to go," my husband reassured. But what was she, six or seven years old? Or was she closer to ten? I'm loosing count. Because I had to stop counting.
For years here, suffering was our modus operandi. I've held more suffering, dying lives in my arms here than I could possibly talk about. I've found more evidence of struggle in lives lost here than I can possibly wrap my mind around. More calamities here than I could possibly share. And I've buried or have had to dispose of more lives on this land than a person should have to. Way too many to put words to.
And because of this, I used to live in fear. It was real, palpable, and big. We were taming the land, so to speak, while getting in the way of it. Here the weather rules but the land is king and nature works between them.
We do our part to provide, to support the system. With baby goats and puppies and chicks and kittens, and even a little llama, there was birth. And death. Amidst all ages. All species. Always a hunt or attack or trauma in the works on our land. So much of it that I nearly trembled with what I would find each time I went outside. I learned to become bold and determined and always on the ready for battle.
But never fearless. I couldn't get there.
I could water our land with the tears I've cried here.
Until the day I realized I couldn't do it anymore. When I simply couldn't wage war on my own (with the help of my family) and I certainly couldn't allow my heart anymore breakage in the process.
I'll never forget the day I went out to feed my goats before church and found a coyote prowling in the grass near my daughters' little does. Those buggers kept sneaking under fences and were too numerous for our dogs, so it meant constant vigilance and regular walks around the property to repair breeches in our walls. It meant finding the remains of our beloved animals regularly too.
Sometimes it meant they simply vanished without a trace.
So, I'd become a bit of a mad woman, screaming and flailing my arms while running after them. Keeping watch day and night. Always looking out of our windows suspiciously. Jumping at the sound of our dogs barking. Looking for those cougars the "size of circus lions" the neighbors talked about and I'd seen evidence of. But there is only so much of that a body can do.
Anyway, on this particular day, I'd decided I'd not have time to get ready to go to church, but rather I'd need to coax the herd back up to the barnyard and, perhaps, even lock the babies in a stall in the barn. I was worn out with my kids' losses and wounded love. I was out of soothing words for the tearful rebuffs. I couldn't allow anything more to happen. Not if I could do something about it.
I should add that I was mostly tired of God allowing us to fall in love with possibility that was never possible.
And then one early, feeble morning, his voice conquered that land, and me. It was nearly audible. "Your faith is meaningless," he said. "Unless you can walk away and toward the light, your faith is like chaff scattered in the wind."
Wow. He was right. He wanted me to remember, to know, without a dark shadow of doubt, that he had the situation covered. I needed to walk back up to the house and demonstrate my faith in him by getting cleaned up and ready to go. He wanted me to go worship him.
And I had chosen to worship the god of fear.
An opposing voice of deception, the one that was running me ragged, tried to sneak a word in too. "Negligent" it said.
Fortunately, I didn't listen to that one. The first few steps were difficult. There were beloved babies in that field behind me! But as I walked to the east and toward the house, the allegory was not lost on me. As I walked into the glorious light rising from the new horizon, I walked into the Light! I chose my God.
I continued, boldness increasing all the while, the sun lifting a little more, a multi-layered chiaroscuro against the darkness at my back. With each step I took, I trusted more, golden rays gaining strength as their source rose higher, I warming under its glorious touch in chilly air and the way it burned through obscurity.
And I began to realize that fear had been perpetually holding me in so tight a grasp, it was killing me. I then clearly understood the symbolism offered me, a gift I was finally ready to unwrap.
In it was supernatural knowledge tied up with a big, red bow.
Trying to maintain control over all aspects of my farm was a parallel illustration of the things I had tried to hold onto in my own life. So then, it was as if I was attempting to grasp and retain the air around me when the only thing I managed to keep was fear.
The heartache and suffering, the constant loss and anxiety, I laid them all down in that field that day. Oh, I'd made earlier attempts and taken a few steps forward in the past, but that day, symbolism, authenticity, and the voice of God won.
Later, I returned home to the field to find our special babies, and all the others, frolicking in the fields. That was years ago and they are still with us today. Since that day, we've suffered far less loss. Far less. Nearly every animal that's passed has done so to natural causes and we are now in a place where we are waiting things out, which is to say, we are waiting for God to show us the next step here on the farm. No longer keen on laborious work (not that I ever was) with our numbers decreasing in a reasonable way, we can think about our own future and where we'd like to be. Maybe it's here. Maybe God has other plans for us.
Meanwhile, the loss of Yulie is the passing of an era. We've always had German Shepherds on this farm and so, memories are tied up there with them. Now that they are all gone, it seems as if we've attached a bundle of long, colorful ribbons to a balloon and watched it sail away in the sky.
It's funny how you can measure life's seasons by the spans of special pets' lives, and by those precious humans you've loved and lost too.
It's a good thing we have the promises of a gentle God, who, when we allow him to, takes tender care to protect and encourage our small, breakable hearts with big, unshakeable faithfulness.
One who always assures us he really is a gift of protection worthy of our trust.