An early singing "gig."
A couple years ago, I went through a time in my life where I was carrying a great deal of emotional and spiritual weight. At that time, our church had on staff a licensed Christian family therapist and after putting it off for as long as I possibly could, I worked up the courage to meet with him. It’s a daunting step to place yourself in the hands of another human being, to whom you reveal the most troubled parts of your life, hoping that something they have to say will change your life for the better. I remember one of our first sessions when my counselor asked me to trust him. His name is John. He had counseled my husband and me earlier in our marriage, so I didn’t have trouble trusting him, but when he started mining down into some well-guarded areas of my life, I could feel myself shrink from his questions. Sometimes the answers were painful and difficult to think about. I remember once, he said to me, “Jennifer, now God is asking…’Do you trust me?’” I wanted to say yes, but I couldn’t. It was as if God was looking at me through John’s eyes and I couldn’t lie, so I admitted out loud through my tears, “no, I don’t.” I counseled with him for about nine months.
Every fall, I attend a women’s retreat at a beautiful camp in Rush County called Mahoning Valley Christian Service Camp. By the time we get there in the fall, the trees have begun to turn and there is a slight chill in the air. About the same time the retreat came around, I’d been in counseling for about three months. John knew I’d be at the camp and since he is familiar with the camp, he gave me an assignment to complete sometime during the weekend. He wanted me to walk around the beautiful grounds of the camp and ask God to reveal himself through his Creation. I did, (I admit it was with a somewhat doubtful spirit), and not only did God not disappoint me, he overwhelmed me.
I walked out of the main building to go for my walk and the first thing I saw was a row of uneven pine trees. They were obviously not the same age because they were all different heights. I believe God was saying to me, “They’re like people… everyone is at a different place in their walk of faith. Remember that compared to some, you are older in the faith, but compared to others, you are younger. Show humility to both.”
I walked on through the camp to a foot path that I knew existed, but I’d never walked down it because I didn’t know where it would go. I turned down the path and saw that it was a long, descending curve that prevented me from seeing what was ahead and I began to feel fearful, even though it was a beautiful fall day and there was nothing to fear. I have back and hip pain issues sometimes and I was already hurting. I worried about walking too far and not being able to enjoy the rest of the retreat for the pain, so I thought about turning back. I really felt that the Holy Spirit was urging me to walk on, saying, “Trust me, Jennifer… walk where I lead you. You don’t need to know what your destination is in order to follow my leading.” I have always been fearful of pursuing any kind of music career because I didn’t know where it would take me. Some people might be excited at that kind of prospect, but for me, it was terrifying, even paralyzing. I always feared I’d be alone.
When I reached the end of the curve in the path, I saw something that made me catch my breath: a majestic cathedral of about twenty 60′ walnut trees in a low area by a quietly flowing creek, the ground carpeted with lush, green mosses and grass. I stood silently still and drank it in, feeling very small. In awe, I slowly drew in a breath and listened to God’s voice whispering to me, “See this? When I make plans for you, I will raise up people to sustain and guide you. You won’t be alone. Do you trust me now?”
I wanted to walk on, but I looked at how far I had to walk and worried again that the pain in my body be too much to bear if I overdid it. I kept putting one foot in front of the other and after a few steps, concerns about the pain somehow faded away without my noticing it. I think I felt the presence of the Lord so strongly that those thoughts had left my mind completely. I tried to take in the scenery as much as possible with all of my senses, but one thing really caught my attention: I couldn’t hear anything. You know how it is when you think maybe you heard a noise in your house late at night and you sort of get ”hyper-sensitive” to any slight sound in your surroundings? That’s how I felt, but no matter how quiet I got, I just couldn’t hear anything. The creek wasn’t trickling, the birds weren’t chirping, the bugs weren’t buzzing, the breeze wasn’t breezing… absolutely nothing. This was God’s plan…”I’ve been trying to get your attention, Jenny. You haven’t heard what I have been saying with all of the noise in your life. Make time to be quiet and be ready to hear me when I speak.” I realized then that the noise God was talking about wasn’t just my busy schedule. It was the conflict in my life, the fearful part of me that tries to anticipate every possible failure and wound. The more I grappled for control in my life, the more illusive control had become.
I realized by this time that I had walked way beyond what I thought I could stand, given my body’s condition. I began to despair over the fact that not only had I walked too far, now I had to walk the same distance back just to get out of that lowland area. I knew I would be in pain for sure by the time I got back to the main building and turned to my right to start making the trip back up to the winding path. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flight of stairs tucked in the side of a hill I hadn’t noticed when I came down. It was a shortcut back to the main building. “When I lead you somewhere, I will not leave you stranded. I will always provide a path, Jennifer. Do you trust me now?”