And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger.
I have never been a peaceful sleeper. Most nights I sleep in fitful and erratic snatches of time, waking often. Sometimes I give up at 1 or 2 in the morning, slip out of bed, and sneak downstairs to read a book.
I could turn on the hallway lights, wake up my husband, and startle the dog. Instead, I prefer to creep through the house in the midnight dark, tiptoeing down the stairs and through the silent shadows, imagining all the scary things that haunt us about dark houses.
My midnight walks are a form of test, a way to force myself to face my fear.
Each time I arrive downstairs and snap on the lamp, I find my safe and familiar living room, the same comfy sofa, the dog toys scattered on the floor. Every time I reach my destination, I remember that all I imagine could be lurking in the dark is not the reality I see when I fill the room with light.
So it is with all our fears. Often, the problems that we imagine, the shadows that scare us, will no longer exist when we arrive and turn on God’s light. When we confront our fears directly, they lose their power to influence our decisions and will no longer keep us frozen in the dark.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” 2 Timothy 1:7.
Today I encourage you to directly face one fear that has been holding you back: descending the dark and mysterious midnight stairs, tackling an ambitious job interview, risking a new and promising relationship, or moving on to some new adventure. I challenge you to take any step into strange and unknown territory where shadows linger and shroud the path ahead. I pray you see that when we shine the light on what we fear, what we discover is often safe and comfortable after all.
On a gray and rainy day in a dark and drizzly week, all I wanted to do was retreat to the sofa with a book and a blanket. All the cold and damp aggravated my old knee injury, so just hobbling to my desk seemed like too much effort. All I wanted to do was curl up in a cocoon on the couch.
Instead, I called Terra, a former coworker, and asked her to meet for lunch. I braved the tempest and limped through the crowded Chinese restaurant. We ate beef and broccoli while Terra told me about the breakup of her marriage, her upcoming move to a new city, the medical problem that put her in the hospital for two days.
“But I’m not crying anymore,” Terra said. She shook off her slump and again became the cheerful and positive friend I worked with years ago. “I know God is taking care of me. God will work it out.”
“This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).
On that cold and dreary day, I was reminded that my aching knee is not the only pain in the world. My story is only one of many stories. God hears every prayer, and he knows every concern. Each day he offers me a new opportunity to choose joy in the life I am given, look for the reasons I have to be grateful, trust in him for the resolution of the future, and care for someone else within my reach.
Leaving my cozy and comfortable home reminds me of my purpose: to reach out and connect with friends, offer companionship and support on our shared journey, spread cheer and encouragement wherever I am able. When I trust that God is taking care of me, I am free to forget my small problems and focus on caring for others instead.
When we choose to confront each new day with joy, give thanks for all we are given, and love others we meet on the way; then the drizzle becomes less dreary, and the sun begins to break through the clouds.
Towering above Hannibal, Missouri, 244 concrete stairs lead up the hillside to the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse.
We ground through the laborious climb, one tortuous step at a time, gripping the metal handrail and gasping in the humid air, until we finally stood, swaying, on the topmost step.
We journeyed for the view from the top. Through a break in the trees we watched the Mississippi River flowing peacefully far below.
We barely had time to catch our breath before starting back down the 244 steps to the street and the car, but we managed to find a few insights along the way.
We built courage.
A fall on the sharp, stone steps could have been back-breaking. To complete the climb we had to keep looking forward, stay focused on the beacon at the top, and patiently plod toward our goal. We confront our fear of falling when we look past the cracked and crooked steps and just keep climbing.
We helped our companions.
The walk is too long to tackle alone. To make it all the way we need a hand to hold onto, someone to pull us onward when we grow tired, a friend to encourage us when we feel like giving up. Friends propel us forward when our goal seems distant and difficult.
We gained perspective.
When we look down from above, the world seems still and silent. The sky is cool and clear, the wind blows the trees, and the river's dark currents flow without our consent or command. We realize that our power is very small, the world is bigger than we imagine, and only God gives us the strength to put one foot in front of the other.
We will always have new mountainsides to conquer and steeper steps to climb. The only way to appreciate the view is to muster our courage and make the grueling trek to the top. We can never guess what we will discover when we get there.
Where is your climb taking you today? Who are your companions on your way up?
I rinsed the shampoo out of my hair and shut off the water. I dried off and got dressed while trying to keep my towel and clean clothes out of the puddles on the floor.
When I had walked from our tent to the shower building in the middle of the campground, the sun was just beginning to set. When I pushed open the shower building door and stepped outside, the sun had fallen and the campground was dark.
I was twelve years old and raised to be independent. I was used to walking all over my small hometown alone, and I wasn't afraid of showering alone in a strange campground.
But now the campground was dark, the only light shining from the poles around the shower building. The gravel driveways to the camping sites radiated out from the center in all directions. Each driveway looked the same, a gravel path lined with tents and RV's. I picked the path I thought led back to our tent and started walking.
My flip-flops crunched quietly on the gravel. Campfires flickered on both sides of the road, surrounded by strange and shadowy figures. I heard laughter in the distance, and music from a far-off radio.
I walked slowly to the end of the road, but I didn't see our tent or station wagon, so I turned around and headed back toward the lights of the shower building.
I chose again and walked a different path. I saw the same dark night and flickering fires, but no familiar tent or car. I turned back and tried again, over and over, moving faster every time, fighting the rising panic in my heart and the choking tears of fear and confusion.
Finally, I turned and hurried to the shower building to try again. A flashlight beam bobbed toward me through the night, and my brother asked, "Where have you been? It's dark out here."
I have walked many paths in my life. Often I start out feeling confident and sure of my destination, only to wind up wondering where I am and why nothing looks familiar. Many times I have turned back and started over, trying again and again to reach some goal that seemed shadowy and unclear.
If I had stayed near the light and safety of the campground shower house, my brother would have found me, and I would have been safe in my sleeping bag much sooner.
If we stay still and keep calm, God will come to find us. He is always out there searching, and he will lead us on the proper path toward home.