May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us;
establish the work of our hands for us–yes, establish the work of our hands.
~ Psalm 90:17 ~
I often pray for God’s favor to rest upon me.
I know His favor never leaves me. There are times, though, when God covers me with a special kind of favor that I can actually see and touch and feel.
I received a concussion during a car accident in May. The doctor reassured me that with plenty of rest I would likely recover. Meanwhile, I trudged around in a fog, people seemed a million miles away and everything exhausted me. The long list of summer projects I’d compiled would have to wait. To get better, I had to rest.
Here’s what I do to relax: reading, writing, listening to music, working in the garden and talking with friends.
After the accident, here’s what taxed me to the point of tears: reading, writing, listening to music, working in the garden and talking with friends. It was awful. Recovery meant spending most of my time alone, sitting or lying still.
As the days passed, I kept thinking I should be feeling better. To test the waters, I would try to write a bit. After straining to pull a single coherent thought from the murky soup in my mind, I’d soon wilt, shut-down the computer and crawl into bed. Two weeks passed, then three, then four. Instead of recovering I seemed to be getting worse. The mere sound of people’s voices wore me out. Every consonant pecked at the pain already gripping my head. I’d lie down and close my eyes, waiting for the twirling, swirling, sickening headache to pass. Five weeks, six weeks. I grew more discouraged as the speaking engagements I’d accepted for July were approaching faster than my recovery.
It didn’t look as if I would be physically able to speak for the three Stonecroft groups in Iowa. Friends and family had already been praying for my recovery. I turned to them with a new request—for God to show me whether I should cancel out on the speaking events or not.
Less than a week before the Iowa trip, I stood at the front of the little church where I practice. I opened my notebook and stared at the first page of my talk. I willed my eyes to make sense of the lines of type. Each phrase seemed so heavy; I could barely hurl it into the front pew of a quiet sanctuary. How could I possibly get the entire speech to take flight amidst a room percolating with chatty women?
After an hour of dredging up stories that seemed vaguely familiar, I collapsed on the stairs at the front of the sanctuary, cradled my notebook in my lap and fought back the tears. Lord, I want to do this, but I have no idea how I’ll ever make it through.
I awoke the next morning and struggled to get out of bed. Light. Movement. Sound. They battered me into a tearful mess, riding out the rest of the day on the couch. Can I really speak for the ladies just five days from now? What does God want? For me to stay home and rest—to be still and know that He is God? Or does He want me to go tell it beyond this mountain?
My husband sensed that going to speak in Iowa was what I needed to do. I called to check in with the woman who had invited me. She said, “We’ve heard from several women who will be coming for the first time and I’ve invited a friend who’s been going through cancer. I would love for her to hear your story. I put out the word, Mari, and everyone is praying for you. I’m sure you’ll do just fine.” Her words lifted a corner on the blanket of discouragement that had been weighing on me, letting in hope like a bit of fresh air.
If my sole purpose was to encourage just one woman with cancer, I wanted to go to Iowa! Again, I prayed, May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon me. Establish the work of my hands. If the work of my hands is to go to Iowa, Lord, I have a mountain that needs moved.
The next day my Bible fell open to the book of Haggai. It described how God called His people to turn their hearts toward His work. He asked them to show up and set to work with “willing hands.” I had willing hands, yet they were anything but capable.
God encouraged His people through Haggai: Be strong…be strong…be strong.
Lord, I want to be strong, but how?
‘Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.
I sensed these were God’s words for me. Mari, be strong and work, for I am with you.
I went on to read of how God promised to bless His children at the very first turning of their hearts and hands toward his work. He promised that He would open up His unlimited riches to them to carry out the work He’d designated for them.
Okay, God. I’m ready to do Your work. Let’s go!
I began receiving encouraging emails and facebook messages. A card arrived in the mail, and then, another. There were phone calls, too. One afternoon, a friend stopped by and prayed for me while sitting together on my back porch steps! God was opening up the riches of his kingdom and pouring out His love on me through the encouragement and prayers of friends, family and even women who had never met me.
We made the five-hour drive to Des Moines on Sunday so we’d have a good night’s rest before Monday’s Women’s Connection. Instead of a peaceful oasis, however, our hotel turned out to be a three-ring circus, with key-cards. We ended up dragging everything back to the truck and locating more peaceful accommodations a half-hour down the interstate. (Thanks for taking us in, Cathy!)
I fell into bed exhausted that night. Who knew what condition I would be in the next day. I prayed through Psalm 18 before turning out the light. In it, God promised He’d be my shield if I would take refuge in Him. He said it would be a shield of victory, not merely a place to hide and weather the storm.
I woke up a little groggy. But I felt a happy stirring inside as soon as I thought about speaking for the women’s group in Ankeny. With an hour on the road I’d have plenty of time to look over my notes. I churned through the words, closed my eyes and tried to repeat them. This just wasn’t working. I was still no contender for the fog in my brain.
“Look over there,” my husband said. A thick, black wall of clouds was stirring up a storm just beyond our destination. Images of large oaks, uprooted and lying on their sides, and city streets blocked by downed limbs flashed through my mind. Last night’s evening news had shown the damage from the latest storm in the area. Now another brewed in the distance. I prayed the weather wouldn’t deter a single woman.
It grew dark as we crossed over to our exit. A downpour soon drummed the roof as we searched for the Ankeny Blvd sign. The rain slowed to a drizzle as the GPS announced our arrival. Noodle Zoo stood out from the gray storefronts with its chic window-front aglow in soft yellow light. I jumped from the truck and dashed into the ultra-hip cafe with its black tables and urban decor. A half-dozen women bustled about in bright summer prints and capris.
I introduced myself to a few women and was soon “found” by a bright-eyed woman named Dawn. “I’ll be shadowing you today,” she said. Noting my confused reaction, Dawn smiled and reassured me that anything that I needed–she had it covered. We found a corner and prayed as ladies filled the room. Music played overhead. The place grew louder with women laughing, chatting and scooting chairs against the cement floor while they settled around their tables. I braced myself, but the usual throbbing headache was nowhere to be found. I smiled to myself, enjoying every minute of this delicious peace. Even when I realized, that all recollection of my talk was missing, too.
When I heard my introduction being read, Dawn leaned toward me and reassured me I’d do fine. I accepted the microphone, laid my binder on the lectern and looked out at the women gathered there. Then I stepped forward and began to share. The first story came skipping out to wake everyone up with a laugh over my losing my skirt in front of a whole school bus of kids! And then the next came to life, and the next. From cockroaches to cancer to running down dead-end roads and ending up the arms of God: all of my stories took flight.
I looked into the faces of the women gathered there. They responded with smiles and nods. At one point, my eyes met the moist-eyed gaze of a woman near me. I sensed that something I’d shared had connected with her heart. I prayed that God was speaking to her and drawing her closer to Him.
In these moments, I see the favor of the Lord. I feel divine pleasure when the God of the Universe uses this ordinary woman to do His work. My friend and fellow writer, Laura Smith, describes it beautifully:
I love seeing people “lean” into what I’m teaching. You know that moment when you look out and women are bent forward in their chairs, their eyes focused on you, and you realize that God is using you to touch their lives.
— Laura Smith
Not only did He unfold something special for all of us in Ankeny, but He continued to be my strength and my shield the following day as I shared with the ladies at both the Indianola Midday Connection luncheon and the Indianola After 5 dinner. Thank you, ladies, for sharing your stories, your insights, your hugs and your prayers with me.
Throughout the trip, I sensed that it was God who upheld me and it was God who held back the headaches and exhaustion. God showed me that when a woman turns her heart and her hands to do His work, He makes her strong and is her shield of victory. And the favor of the Lord rests on her in a way that she can see and touch and feel.
New friends from the Iowa trip: Penny Brown-Ankeny, IA Women’s Connection Chairperson; Karen Langstraat-Stonecroft Regional Administrator for Iowa; Mari Mayborn and Dawn Guy-Ankeny, IA Women’s Connection