“Gilgal is coming…”
Those words resonated in my heart and mind for the last few weeks of camp. Obviously, I didn’t write as much or as frequently as I had hoped for the summer, but thankfully the Lord continued to do a mighty work in my life over the course of the weeks following my last update.
Though I could tell endless stories and recall countless conversations where God blessed me, encouraged me, and revealed more of His truth to me, there is one specific incident that I can’t neglect sharing.
There’s one specific way that the Lord worked- a way that was as much unexpected as it was unwanted and as unbelievable as it was unlikely.
I went to camp knowing that God would use it to grow me, but I had no idea how different His plans for the summer were from mine.
I expected to encourage others and have a good time, but I was encouraged by others and had an incredible time. I knew I would be challenged by the truth of scripture, but I had no idea how much that truth would change me. I went with the intention of bearing others’ burdens and pouring my life into theirs, but it wasn’t long before I realized that others were bearing my burdens and pouring into me.
In all honesty, I wasn’t crazy about the ways God surprised me. I had a plan for the summer that didn’t consist of me opening up about the baggage I had carried with me through T Bar M’s gates. If anything, it consisted of me ignoring whatever bothered me and pretending to be the most carefree person around for 3 months.
That lasted less than a week.
And for the following 11 weeks, God continually brought me to places I never thought I could or would go to.
It started with a question that was posed during the last sermon of our training week at the end of May.
Several times, the speaker made reference to the potential things each of us may be holding onto and would then ask, “Do you believe you’re free?”
I stood at the back of the sanctuary feeling trapped and tricked. My heart wrestled with frustration and my mind raced as I began to understand that God hadn’t brought me to camp just to work through me, He also intended to work in me. I clinched my fists over and over again, as if I thought that would tighten my grip on all the burdens I had so desperately hoped to hold onto. All the while hoping and praying that God would stop doing whatever He was doing and let it go.
In the past, I’m confident that I would have just left and gone for a walk or strategically avoided people for as long as was necessary until I could act like things were fine again, but something (really, Someone) was making it impossible to do that. I wanted to walk away, but I stayed. I could see that others were letting go, and I wanted to do the same. But at the same time, I was terrified to open up to people I barely even knew.
As the reasons to stay and reasons to go battled against each other, I heard the speaker say, “You’re free.”
No, I’m really not. That thought continued to repeat itself as the reasons resumed their war.
“You can be free.” I heard it again.
How? My mind wondered. But I already knew the answer: let go. Let go of what you’re holding onto that has stolen years of life from you. Let go of what you can’t change. Let go of all the hurt and sorrow and shame and let the Lord take them from you. Let Him work as you never have before.
I knew I couldn’t run now. No matter where I went, I wouldn’t escape the voice that would only grow louder if it wasn’t acknowledged and obeyed. I knew that from experience. I was afraid it would only continue until I could not sleep or think or do anything without hearing it and being reminded of what I was trying to ignore. More than anything, I was afraid that it would go away… and I would then spend a summer distant from the very One I longed to be close to.
So I did what I never do. Better yet, I believe the Lord gave me strength to resist my tendency to suppress or avoid something troublesome and provided me with several people who were willing to listen and walk with me through the hard days that awaited me.
I sought these people out and opened up to them about what I had sworn to keep to myself. As it turned out, the first person I talked to about the issues I was working through was only there during training week and would return for the last few days of the summer at family camp. I’ll admit that was probably one of the primary reasons I went to her first. But she made the point that I would need to continue opening up to those who would be with me for the whole summer and that I would have to constantly pray for the Lord to take from me what I would try to hold onto. And slowly but surely, He would work to break through each wall I had built around my heart and bring me to a place where I was truly free from the pain and sin that I had been captive to for so long. Again, I wanted to run. I wanted to stop with telling one person and try to do the rest by myself. But again, God had other plans. So I let someone else in. And one more. And one more. And one more… And I found that each time I talked about what I had tried so hard to hide, the Lord brought more healing and mended my heart with the truth that was spoken into so many lies.
As I said, this was something that unfolded over the course of the summer. With each week, it seemed a new height was reached in some sense. Whether that was letting go of another secret, or sharing part of my life with someone, or refraining from making a bitter comment… one thing was clear: the Lord was changing my heart. I’m very selfish with my pain and my personal struggles. But He taught me that, as hard as it was to do the opposite of what I wanted, it was so worth it. When we surrender and say “Thy will be done,” we get to see God work and are reminded of why His will is far better than our own just as His ways are higher than ours (Is. 55:8-9).
Throughout this time, I got excited when I talked to anyone who asked me how I was liking camp. I would tell them all about ways I was getting to see God work or how He had revealed so much truth to me in such a short amount of time. More than anything, I would say that I was learning to say “He IS good! No matter what the circumstances may be…”
Of course, my faith in that lesson would be tested before the summer’s end.
It happened week 9, to be exact. This was when I had the opportunity to apply all that I had learned. This is where “the rubber met the road” so to say.
Although there were a multitude of factors playing into that being a difficult week, the number one reason it was so hard was because I felt overwhelmed and even paralyzed by anxiety. This anxiety manifested itself more as I approached the end of the summer. With the end of the summer came the biggest nursing test I would take: the NCLEX. Hearing the word made me want to vomit. Being asked about it made me want to cry. And preparing for it seemed to summon every fear I’ve ever had to surface all at once.
I was sure that I would fail. And if I failed this, my life would be over. Or so it would seem. I wouldn’t be able to handle being asked over and over again how I fared only to have to repeat over and over again that I failed. I wouldn’t be able to handle going home and feeling embarrassed when I had to tell everyone that I wouldn’t be able to get a job until I took the test again, and even then I wouldn’t know if I’d pass…
For a week straight, I would wake up crying and go to sleep dreading the next day knowing that it would mean I was a day closer to doom. Worry seemed to occupy every waking moment. But God was still good, even when I was doubting it. He was faithful to remind me of that through scripture and the truth He had others speak into my life. It was no coincidence that Philippians 4:6-7 was repeatedly brought up by those around me: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, through prayer and thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts in Christ Jesus.” I continued to pray for this peace. All I wanted was this peace. I was frustrated with myself and my lack of faith, but I still allowed fear to overwhelm me.
As I wrestled with so much worry and questioned what in the world God was doing with all of the things that were going on, He revealed to me that this anxiety was rooted in something much deeper than a test. Though I was afraid of taking the NCLEX, I was more afraid of returning home. I was afraid of the problems that awaited me outside of the safety of this special place. Here, I had been able to let go. But I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to continue doing that in the time to come.
These fears mounted one after another and I felt as if I wouldn’t be able to even make it to the test because the weight of these burdens was holding me back from even being able to function.
All of this hit me one morning while I was attempting to study and, within an hour, I had found a secluded place and essentially fallen apart in every way. I was panicking. All I could think or pray was “I can’t do this.” I couldn’t take the test. I couldn’t keep letting go. I couldn’t go home.
And in that time of so much turmoil and anxiety, God once again spoke truth.
By reminding me of His Word. Through the prayer of a friend. And in the realization that, apart from His grace, I really couldn’t do anything. I wasn’t made to live life without Him or apart from a transparent community of believers. Relying so much on myself drove me to the brink of my sanity because I had to accept that I’m not actually strong enough to carry my own burdens. Slowly, I began to experience peace about these situations as I relied more on His grace and strength. There were still plenty of tears and moments of doubt, but again, He was faithful to answer my prayers regardless of how fickle my heart remained. For the three days leading up to taking the NCLEX, I was filled with His peace. And it proved to be a peace that surpassed all understanding. I was able to relax a little bit more and even enjoy myself! The morning of the test, as I sat in the hall of the testing center with no clue as to what the next few hours had in store, I opened my Bible and read Psalm 23.
One of the last things I journaled before beginning the testing process was this:
Quiet my soul. Prepare my heart for what is to come. No matter what, You’re good.
The test was miserable. I would say the questions were the worst, but I don’t remember any of them and I can honestly say that I have virtually no recollection of those two hours. But I do remember scribbling “God is good” on my scratch paper. That was the only thing I felt I needed to remember or that even came to mind during such a crucial time.
I walked out of the testing center sure that I failed. I spent the next 2 days preparing myself for the worst and keeping my hopes at bay.
On the morning of ‘results day,’ our Bible study was focused on Philippians 4:6-7. Obviously, the Lord was preparing me to handle the immense anxiety that was about to overwhelm me when I affirmed my failure.
But I spent the morning praying that God would continue to calm my heart and give me the strength to trust Him regardless of the outcome.
And as if He hadn’t showed me enough grace in 3 months time, much less in my 22 years, He showed it once more.
I passed. Every good emotion surged through my being. Surprise. Relief. Inexpressible joy. I began informing anyone and everyone I know that I was officially a nurse! All of the hard work had finally paid off.
At this point of my small novel, you’re probably wondering why this post is titled ‘Gilgal.’
It just ‘so happened’ that, in the midst of my week of worry, we discussed the story of Gilgal in our Bible study (Joshua 4 & 5). Upon reading this story, we learned that Gilgal was the place where the Lord rolled away the reproach of Egypt from the lives of the Israelites through their circumcision. It was also the place where the Israelites built the ‘Memorial Stones’ in obedience to God’s command to construct a circle of stones as a testament to the work He had done in delivering them from Egypt and bringing them across the Jordan River. After hearing this story recapped and being reassured that the Lord continues to bring His children to Gilgal even still (in the figurative sense), we were encouraged to find something that would serve as a memorial stone for the work the Lord had done in our lives over the summer. Though there were several items I was considering to serve as my stone(s), someone gave me a picture frame that same week with ‘Gilgal’ written between two arching arrows pointing to each other’s end. This served as a reminder of the reproach God had rolled away as well as the way He brings things full circle even when it seems like all of the heartache, frustration, and disappointment that we encounter in this life have no purpose. Despite my resistance, the Lord brought me to Gilgal. And He subsequently rolled away years of reproach and captivity and showed me His goodness as I had never experienced it before.
In the short amount of time that has elapsed since my departure from camp, my faith in the Lord’s goodness has already been tested more than I wish to admit, especially after being immersed in it so often over the past 3 months. But again, He has remained faithful and has patiently reminded me of His promises and truths though I am so quick to doubt. Just this morning, He brought me to the Psalms
(chapters 62-64) when I was beginning to toss and turn with anxiety. He continues to teach me to say “He IS good!” no matter what worry may present itself.
Please pray that my heart will be quick to believe His truth and to turn from anything that does not cause it to love Him more. As I continue my transition into the unknown (AKA adulthood/full-time employment/I literally have no idea what my future looks like), I only hope to point to my glorious God in all that I do and I look forward to sharing whatever that will consist of with anyone who is willing to listen in the future!
For His name and glory,