"Therefore, my dear ones, as you have always obeyed [my suggestions], so now, not only [with the enthusiasm you would show] in my presence but much more because I am absent, work out (cultivate, carry out to the goal, and fully complete) your own salvation with reverence and awe and trembling (self-distrust, with serious caution, tenderness of conscience, watchfulness against temptation, timidly shrinking from whatever might offend God and discredit the name of Christ).
[Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight."
Philippians 2:12-13 (Amplified Bible)
Ten years ago, my in-laws moved to Savannah, Georgia from New York. The city is a mix of the old and new, the eclectic and traditional, the wealthy and desperately poor. Besides being the home of the most fabulous southern cuisine (a visit to Mrs. Wilkes' Boarding House is an absolute must!), the city has a lovely river front of different shops and restaurants. We have vacationed there as a family almost every year. The smell of the salty Atlantic is in the air and permeates everything.
Before our children were in school, Rob and I usually stayed with Dad and Mom Lantz for a week around Memorial Day. We always headed downtown for our traditional visit to browse in a wonderful toy store and head over to the Savannah Candy Kitchen. My husband strongly dislikes crowds, so I cannot remember what allowed me to convince him to let our visit downtown fall on Memorial Day itself. Wall-to-wall people and having to keep an eagle eye on three small children did not seem like a compatible combination. Rob is a softie. Hearing the pleas of our six, five, and soon-to-be three-year-old children motivated him to pile us all in the car and head the van toward downtown.
We carefully went over all the rules with the kids. This was going to be a very busy day. I had started talking to them about stranger danger from infancy. Chase and Jordyn, my two older ones, solemnly nodded their heads when I asked them if they understood how important it was to stay right by their daddy and me. At two, I could not be sure that Jenna could understand the seriousness of my talk. No matter. I would not let her hand go the whole time we were downtown.
Our first stop was the toy shop. Chase and Jordyn waited patiently for Jenna and me as they looked at all the exciting things on the shelves. This toy shop was not your run-of-the-mill chain store. It had marionettes, intricately detailed baby dolls, and colorful and unusual cars and trucks. It was the perfect shop to find a one-of-a-kind toy. I firmly held Jenna's hand and dragged her along to keep up with her siblings. I looked down at her and saw that her eyes were as big as saucers. She had been too young to truly enjoy our visit the previous year. I could see she was lost in the wonder of it all.
Chase asked me to reach something on a shelf for him. Rob had been bringing up the rear of our little group. Without seeing him, I asked Rob to take care of Jenna for me as I reached for the object Chase wanted.
"How does it work, Mama?" Chase asked.
I was fascinated with the toy also. I bent down and showed him all of its different features. We spent a minute looking at it together before I passed it off to him. The toy store was small, but it contained four rooms. I looked behind us and heard Jordyn talking to her daddy in one of the rooms. I told Chase he could bring the toy with him as we went to find the others. I rounded the corner to see Jordyn and Rob, but Jenna was not there.
"Rob, where is Jenna?" I asked.
"I don't know. I thought she was with you. I haven't seen her," he answered.
Now, girlfriends, you all know what my adrenal glands were doing at that moment. A shot of icy fear rushed through my bloodstream. I tried to calm myself down with the knowledge that the entire store was no more than 1000 square feet. I squelched the panic that was racing through my brain as I started calling my daughter's name.
"Jenna, where are you? Honey, you need to answer Mama right now."
No answer. I ran through the doorway and went into the small room. And the next and the next. No Jenna. My stomach churned as I looked at the door leading to the outside, knowing the volume of the crowds of people that was behind it. Surely she wouldn't be outside! She couldn't open the door.
Although I knew I couldn't have possibly missed her, I went through all the rooms again. Rob saw what I was doing and heard the panic in my voice. He went outside and down the stairs into the milling stream of strangers trying to see a familiar blonde head. The tears started pouring down my face. I asked everyone in the shop if they had seen Jenna, pushing aside my fear that they may be judging me for having to ask that question.
"Please, dear God! Please Lord Jesus! Help me, help me!! I've lost my baby! Oh God, I beg You that no one has taken her from us!" I screamed silently in my frantic mind.
A desperate realization dawned on me. Jenna was nowhere in that small shop. No one had seen her go out the door. But the only place she could be was outside the shop, beyond the circle of safety. I pushed open the door to join Rob in his search with my hands holding each of my children's hands. All I could do was cry and pray.
Hundreds of people were passing. I looked at the number of shops that she could have gone in or had possibly been taken into. And then there was the river front just fifty feet away. Oh God, no!
I heard a woman's voice behind me.
"Ma'am, this little girl said that you are her mommy. She told me her name was Jenna. Is she yours?"
My eyes fell on my baby girl holding the hand of a total stranger. Jenna was completely oblivious to my distress. I didn't know whether to hug her or scream at her first. The presence of the stranger helped me make my choice.
"Jenna, where were you?! Why did you leave the store? Where were you?" I asked her as I knelt down to crush her little body to me.
The lady, beautifully dressed in a business suit, said, "I found her behind the store walking in the alley. She told me she had been in the toy store. That's how I found you."
When I looked up to thank the woman, she was gone. I kid you not. She seemed to vanish into thin air. I didn't think much of it at the time, but since then, I have become convinced that she was not a human at all. My Father in heaven had charged an angel to look after my daughter and protect her when my daughter was unaware of the immense danger she had put herself in by disobeying me.
After Jenna's daddy had thoroughly chastised her, Jenna said through her sobs:
"But, Mama, I was trying to find the candy store. I wanted to go right now."
Oh, my sweet sisters, sometimes our heavenly Father has to discipline me, too. I have heard Him clearly say, "Do not leave My side," and I have deliberately done exactly that. Like my daughter, the only thing that I see in front of me is getting what I want. I don't see what can be waiting to pounce on me. I don't see the deep waters of the river of sin that could drown me. I just see the candy. And I want it. Now. I don't want to wait for Him, even though He has promised me that He will reward me for waiting and being still before Him. And like my Jenna, eternity will one day show how many times I was rescued by those heavenly beings who diverted evil from me when I didn't have the sense enough on my own to stay away.
I fear that we as believers can sometimes reduce Christ in our minds to only who we want Him to be. Yes, He is loving, slow to anger, merciful, and forgiving. But there is also a side that demands our obedience and our awe. He is not our sugar daddy. He is not our peer. He is God Almighty who is the giver of every breath we take. Serious consequences can happen when we do not obey and deliberately walk out of the safety of His will for us. We have to have a healthy fear of our God. That fear and trembling as we walk before Him will serve us well. We must train our minds to recognize sin and abhor it. That is how we will know the will of God for our lives. There is safety in fear and trembling before the One who is the Creator of heaven and earth. We must remember that.
Jesus, help me to have a balanced view of who You are. Yes, You are loving, gracious, and kind. But You are to be feared in a way that will help me to find Your best for me. May I never lose sight of how worthy You are of my respect and awe. May I remember who You are and what I deserve had it not been for Your death and resurrection.