Shortly after I started first grade, the boys decided on a fun game for them. They would pick a Daddy-Long-Legs off the school's stucco walls, hold it by a leg, and shake it at a girl's face. They did it to me, but I was a stubborn, prideful little thing (some things don't change much), and I wasn't about to let them see how petrified I was, so I just stood there willing myself into stillness.
The other little girls screamed and ran away.
I discovered, not long after that, a surprising advantage to stubborn pride: The boys never shook another spider in my face again. They did, however, do it as often as they could to the screaming, running girls.
I tell this story because after Bible study tonight, I told it to the woman who came to the study in tears over being suddenly separated from her husband, who is delighting in emotionally tormenting her. Another woman's suggestion that the wife should thank her husband for helping her out reminded me of my long-forgotten trauma and its lesson.
Her husband wants to shake up the foundations of her life like the earthquake in Haiti, but if she doesn't let him see any rubble, he loses his satisfaction.
Tonight our Bible study group was at its finest. We didn't get through any of the lesson book (Max Lucado's Fearless), but we shared our fears and helped each other, especially this wife whose life feels shattered. She found a safe outlet for her tears, and she received comfort and encouragement and laughter. Most of all, she and the rest of us got a glimpse of God, because He worked through us to wrap His arms around her and lift her up.
A little after I told her the first-grade spider story, I let her know that I'd gone through an unwanted divorce and that initially, every time I had to go to court, I lost something more of my time with my kids. It seemed to help her to know that someone else had been down a similar road before.
When I was married, the last house we lived in together was surrounded by hedges, and when we separated I felt alone and unprotected in my new place. I would pray that God would put a hedge of protection around the house to keep any bad guys away. And in addition to that, I remembered stories told by missionaries from the deepest, darkest, primitive places, places that had little knowledge of God. The stories would go that the pagan villagers got angry and tried to attack the missionaries at night, but then they'd leave. And later on, maybe months or years later, the villagers would ask who were the strong men that guarded the missionaries' home that night. But there were no strong men, only the mighty angels of God. So I would ask God to post His angels around the hedges around my house, just to make sure my children and I would be safe. My prayers eased my fears enough that I could sleep.
A couple of the people in our Bible study told the wife, when she was still in tears, that God would later use her situation for a purpose. It can be hard to see how that's possible when you're standing in the middle of trauma. But the spider boys and the hedges visibly helped her, and by doing so, they showed me a renewed purpose outside of myself for what I went through in the past.
Tonight was a vivid reminder for me that we are the hands and feet and hugging arms of God, and He chooses to work His will through us and not just around us--if we let Him and are willing to open ourselves up to His leading.