About a year and a half ago, I was standing out in my parents’ front yard with my dad. It was early evening, and I’d just had dinner with them. As we were talking next to my car, Dad asked a question that hit a nerve, and I poured out a story of frustration. I was feeling distraught about our repeated failures to get pregnant and the constant hurdles my husband kept encountering as he tried to find a job that fit his many skills and gifts.
Dad was on the tail end of a pretty difficult season himself. (Whoever said that life gets easier when you get to retirement age was probably selling you something.) Just emerging from a period of intense uncertainty into a time of envisioning future productivity, Dad reached into his shirt pocket and pulled something out.
It was an index card, with a few lines of his angular-yet-somehow-flowing handwriting. He looked at the card for a moment, then he read it to me.
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” ~ Deut. 31:8
Dad has been a Bible-studier for as long as I can remember. His big yellow memo pads were filled with lists like “Promises from Jesus” and “I Am sayings” and “Bread in the Bible.” Lately though, Dad’s conversations about the Lord had become more personal and less list-y.
“I’ve been writing verses that are encouraging to me on index cards,” he told me. “This one has been a great encouragement.” He flipped the card over, and there was a grocery list on the back in Mom’s cursive. Typical. Dad chuckled. Then he handed the card to me.
I took it, a little dubiously. I’d had an awfully hard time believing that God was with me. And even if He was with me, it didn’t seem to fill the hole left by barren womb and barren work. But Dad gave me the card, so I took it.
I put it on my bathroom counter, propped up against the pretty china cotton ball holder that I’ve loved since I was a child. It was the first of several verses that made their way into my hands over the coming months from various people who love me. The others are all beautifully designed, calligraphy flowing on thick card stock, and each has encouraged me in its own way. But the little index card from Dad holds a special place.
Over time, little by little, I began to believe that truth again – that the Lord goes before me, that the Lord is with me. That in my wilderness and grief, in feeling like an outsider and a pariah, I have HIM. And that His presence is sweet, and good, and comforting.
The context of this verse in Deuteronomy is that Moses is passing the baton of leadership to Joshua. They are about to finally come out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land. Many dangers lie ahead of them, but at least they’re moving forward.
Yet these hopeful words are a reiteration of a promise that God has made over and over and over again, from Abraham through the generations to Moses. It is a promise He will keep reiterating through subsequent generations of the people of Israel and on into the New Testament. In the wilderness and in fruitfulness, in sorrow and in joy, in darkness and in light, He tells His people that He is with them, that He will never leave them or abandon them.
Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. My soul is strengthened, once again, for this day, this discouragement, this disappointment. Even here, the Lord is present. He is my help, my refuge, my comfort, my peace. And even though my soul may ache, He is enough.