Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Life in the Shadow

If you grew up or live in my hometown, you probably know my brother.  Billy Jack's the guy that everyone knows and everyone loves.  As a teenager, he was larger than life and well known for other reasons I suppose, but as an adult, (and please never tell him I said this) he continues to be a genuinely great guy.  He has a huge heart and deeply cares for his friends and family...even strangers.
It was sometimes hard to be the little sister living in that huge, larger than life shadow.  He was way more popular. (Thankfully I was smarter!) ;-) Sometimes though, I didn't mind being Billy Jack's little sister. He was only one year ahead of me in school, so I guess being his sister helped.  I wasn't invited to his parties or anything, but I did always know I was protected.  If something bad were to come up (even though we were not super close at the time,) I knew my brother would stand up for me.  There was safety in his shadow.
My brother Billy and I at prom.
No, we did not go together!
Yes, we were this awesome!
A few years ago, I was walking with my kids.  It was a hot summer day, the kind that sucks the very life from you.  I don't know why (perhaps my 5 & 3 year olds were driving me nuts, and I needed out of the house,) but I decided that we would get out and take a walk.  Brilliant!

It would be fun, a nice break in the monotony of the day...WRONG!
This would have been a better idea!
Have you ever walked a small child in the blistering heat of summer?  It was fun for about 5 minutes...and then the complaining began.  In my mind, I know my son was there, probably in the stroller, but he fades in the background at this point because Baby Girl who often is the center of her own universe was determined to be the center of everyone's universe that day.

"Mommy, it's so hot.  Mommy, carry me.  Mommy, it's too bright."  Translation:  #Imgoingtodie!

We were not too far from home, but it seemed a million miles away.  I might have picked her up and just carried her (that is what she really wanted;) but as I said, I was already pushing Baby Brother in the stroller, so that wasn't an option.

Then, I looked down and saw my shadow.  
There it was. The solution to our problem, a shade from the brightness and cooler shelter from the heat of the sun.  "Samantha," I said gently (though I wanted to scream,) "Walk in my shadow."

Cue bewildered toddler stare and....wait for it...."why?"

"Because there is shade.  If you walk in my shadow, the sun will not be so bright and you will be a bit cooler too."  I knew she would be sheltered from the heat and brightness of the sun if she would only walk in my shadow.  I gave myself a mental pat on the back for my genius problem solving skills.  "Well done, Mommy," I silently congratulated myself.

For a moment (a very brief moment) she tried it. Then stopped and loudly proclaimed in all her five year old glory, "NO! I don't want to. It's too hard" and it was back to complaining and utter misery.

Ah the joy that floods your soul when your sweet little one (whom you labored with for what seemed like forever and pushed for 3 1/2 hours to birth into the universe) looks at you with that defiant determination and tells you NO!
In the midst of my frustration, I felt a gentle, unexpected nudge.  Not the nudge of a sweet little one saying, "I'm so sorry for being a stubborn tyrant dictator!" though that would have been very welcome.  It was a different kind of nudge, but one just as familiar as the tug of a toddler.  It was the nudge that comes when you know the Holy Spirit is trying to grab your attention.

In my wisdom, I knew that if Samantha would only walk in my shadow, her life would be easier.  She wouldn't be as hot and the light would not be hurting her eyes, so what was the stinking problem?

The problem was that walking in my shadow (from her limited perspective) was a chore.  She had to stop when I stopped, go wherever I went, and follow wherever I led...and she just didn't want to go the way that I was going. She did not want to be in my shadow.
As God continued to move upon my heart, I felt those familiar tears begin to well up in my eyes and burn my face as they rolled down my cheeks (and not just because there was sunburn though surely there was.)  The Holy Spirit was speaking directly to my heart.  The truth was piercing me like a two edged sword...dividing soul and spirit...judging the thoughts and attitudes of my heart (Hebrews 4:12) not to condemn me (Romans 8:1); because he understands and empathizes with my weakness (Hebrews 4:15), but to set me free (John 8:32).

I don't remember exactly what was going on in my life at the time.  I remember we had moved back to North Carolina after eight years in Europe with a dream to plant a church in Pittsburgh, and I remember that it wasn't going the way that we had planned. (In fact, that's not where we ended up at all....maybe one day?)

Spiritually and emotionally, I was frustrated, hot, the sun was hurting my eyes too.  I wasn't happy at all.  I missed my friends, my life felt upside down.  I was unhappy and everyone around me sure knew it.

God was clearly speaking to me in the heat of that extremely frustrating day...

Psalm 91:1(emphasis mine)
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will REST in the SHADOW of the almighty.

The Holy Spirit whispered, "You need to walk in my shadow.  There is shelter from the heat for you. There is comfort for you.  The heat of this trial doesn't have to scorch you."

"But God, I'm tired.  It's too hard." I argued. (Sound familiar?)  "I don't want to go where you are leading. I want to go somewhere else.  I don't want to stop here.  I don't want to go there?"  But did I dare to stare up at heaven and loudly proclaim "NO! I don't want to!"

What choice did I really have?  Walk on my own, sweat, let my eyes squint and cause a migraine all because I was just as stubborn as my five year old and thought I knew more than God!

There's a song (Yeah, it's me, of course there is a song...)

Where you go, I'll go.
Where you stay, I'll stay.
When you move, I'll move.
I will follow.

In that moment, God was offering me shelter.  He was saying, "You don't have to brave the heat on your own.  You can abide in my shadow.  All you have to do is go where I go. Stay when I stay, and move when I move."

It seems so simple. Why did I want to fight it?  Why on that hot summer day was my daughter failing to see I was trying to help?  Why was I failing to see and accept my Father's gentle solution to my misery?
As I walked down the street that day I surrendered.  I said, "OK God, I get it. I'm going to stop trying to do it all on my own in my own stubborn way. I'm ready to get out of the heat and rest in Your shade. I'm ready to cool off."

I'm writing this three years later and it still in many ways seems like it was yesterday.  I'm writing this now because I find myself once again in need of shelter and refuge.  I'm having trouble going, staying, and moving when and where He does, and I need to abide in the shadow of the most High and realize He has a plan and is looking out for my best interests even if I can't understand what is happening right now.

I need to let God hide me in the shadow of his wings (Psalm 17:8).  This is a season in my life where I feel like God has just stopped moving for a minute.  I want to go forwards or run back, but the shelter is in the resting shadow of God who, in His infinite wisdom, knows that I need to stop for a minute.

I'm frustrated.  I tend to still think I know better, but I have to trust Him.  Just like I needed my daughter to trust me that day and to walk in my shadow, God needs me to trust Him and abide in his shadow because He sees the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10) and knows what is best for me.  I need to listen and be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). I need to find a way to sing for joy in the shadow of His wings (Psalm 63:7)!

You see God is like my big brother. (Oh my, did I really just say that?...Please NEVER tell him!) Well, at least in this one respect, He has my back.  When I need Him (even when I think I don't need Him,) He is and will always be there for me.  Living in His shadow may not always be easy, but it certainly does have it's advantages.  There is safety in His shadow.  We are protected and sheltered. May we all learn to abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  There's no better place to be than living life in His shadow.


Are you struggling between walking on your own or walking in His shadow?  May I encourage you that you don't have to take the heat.  Life is better when we choose to trust Him even in the most difficult situations. If I can pray for you in any way, please let me know!  Pray for me as well!

Trusting Him Always,


  1. Renea - this is so well written. I guess you really aren't 16 any more.

  2. Love it, Renea. I really needed this today

  3. Totally awesome, thank you for sharing!