Stephanie Ehmke, MA, LPC
2017 in the Rearview
“Brothers and sisters, as I said, I know I have not arrived; but there’s one thing I am doing: I’m leaving my old life behind, putting everything on the line for this mission.”
Philippians 3:13 (The Voice)
As 2017 drew to a close, I couldn’t help but do what millions of others were – reflecting on the year that was about to end. It’s a fairly common practice, one I’ve come to do almost every December for as long as I can remember. However, this year was different, probably because 2017 was different.
The question came, “Where was God in my 2017?”
I tried to focus, but no matter how hard I tried, my heart and mind were not satisfied with a quick jaunt down memory lane to be recorded in my journal on December 31stover morning coffee. No! The year of 2017 was excruciating; a year that my soul would have to invite Jesus to speak into as I pondered its significance.
It’s hard to believe it’s taken so many long weeks of prayer and reflection to see clearly all that God was doing in 2017, but true to His dealings with me, God never rushes. As always, the waiting was worth it to have my Savior speak so tenderly to me about events that at the time were so confusing.
You see, 2017 was supposed to be “my year” with God. I was obedient, following Him into the unknown, trusting Him with everything, and it was going to be fantastic! I left a great job, with a regular salary and friends, and never once (seriously) doubted that my Lord had called me to follow him, to surrender all, and to trust.
The problem came with the discrepancy between my idea of how God would bless my obedience, and what He had in mind.
There is a common belief among most Christ-followers that obedience = blessing. And it does, just not always the way we think. Sometimes obedience brings showers of tangible blessings that we can see and touch, and that makes our hearts all warm and fuzzy because we see God’s goodness being poured out – I love these kinds of blessings.
Other times, obedience leads us into a desert season where we are blessed with the gift of having our faith stretched, and our capacity for trusting God solidified and strengthened in ways it could never be in comfortable surroundings.
This past year obedience to Christ led me into the desert.
My humanness wants to say I could have handled 2017 far better had I known “being in the desert” was the plan, but I’m almost sure that isn’t entirely true. Had I known ahead of time, I’m not sure I would have so enthusiastically signed-up for obedience. Looking back at 2017 through the rearview, now well into 2018, I can see clearly why God didn’t let me know what was coming and why He led me through such a difficult season.
My Savior loves me too much to let anything (even my desires for ministry) take a place of precedence in my life before Him, and so he led me into a season of surrender like I’ve never before experienced.
Over the years I have surrendered many things to my Savior: my marriage, my finances, my children, my career, even my pride when I became a 40-year-old intern in ministry – and it’s all been worth it.
Never did I expect Him to ask me to surrender my dreams for ministry, and yet that is where this season has finally brought me. To surrender everything, that I might find all I need in Jesus.
The year I’ve spent can best be described as the story of “Much-Afraid” found in the book “Hinds Feet on High Places” by Hannah Hurnard. The character Much-Afraid is following the Shepherd up to the High Places and though it is difficult and scary, she continues to follow in obedience, until one day the path takes a sharp detour down into the desert. Much-Afraid feels bewildered and confused and so she calls on the Shepherd to make sense of things. The story reads…
He bowed his head silently and Much-Afraid sank on her knees at his feet, almost overwhelmed. He was leading her away from her heart’s desire altogether and gave no promise at all as to when he would bring her back. As she looked out over what seemed an endless desert, the only path she could see led further away from the High Places, and it was all desert.
Then he answered her quietly, “Much-Afraid, do you love me enough to accept the postponement and the apparent contradiction of the promise, and to go down there with me into the desert?” (Pg. 41)
Tears come even now as I retype these words so familiar and painful to my heart. Over and over my Savior has relentlessly whispered similar words to me throughout the course of 2017. “Steph, do you love me enough to trust me even though all you see contradicts what I’ve told you? Do you trust me enough to surrender even your dreams, your gifts, your talents and passions to me?”
My answer after such a long year… finally…
“Yes, of course, I do.”
I did not come to my “yes” without much wrestling with my Savior, and I do hope that someday my dreams come to fruition. But I do know, no matter what, I will be okay because I trust my Savior. And in a much deeper way than ever before, I recognize He is truly all I need.
To finally answer the question, “Where was God in my 2017?” I had to look back in the rearview. There I found the answer to be so simple. He is right where he’s always been, watching over me, loving me, drawing me closer and deeper into this life with him.
For Your Reflection…
Where do you see God in your 2017? If you haven’t yet, spend some time asking Him to help you find where He was at in your story. I’m confident He was there.