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AfterWords | God is my Refuge (January 21, 2024)

AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.

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A 3-Minute Read
by Lisa Goddard

It was the first weekend in December 2009. I was sitting on the floor in the family room of the South Florida house we had lived in for 24 years, surrounded by boxes packed with various items that had made that house home. The weight of leaving that place of comfort, of many great memories and familiarity, was heavy on my heart and mind as I tried to prepare for making a move to the unknown, the “foreign” territory of Alpharetta, Georgia.

While I had agreed to the move a few months prior and knew God was encouraging this transition, I was reluctant. Yes, we had childhood friends in the Alpharetta area, our children were nearby, my husband was excited about beginning new ventures, and God directed us to the perfect home and neighborhood for us—so why was I so sad? I was leaving not only my home, but also my community, my friends, family members, and our church.

Thinking about change reduced me to tears amid the fear of losing what I felt so connected to. I had answered God’s call to serve in my community and church, connect with friends and maintain a close relationship with family, yet I was afraid to heed this new call from God to support my husband and his desire to start fresh. I wanted to glean God’s clear message in this, but my desire to maintain control over my life was still pulling at me.

This past Sunday, Jordan retold a bit of the story of Jonah, reminding us that, while Jonah may have wanted to follow God’s will for his life, he still ran away from His direction. He took a detour, choosing to travel to Tarshish rather than Nineveh. We all know the “big fish story” that resulted from his misstep, and Jonah quickly learned that he was not in control.

Jonah needed God’s saving grace and wondered where salvation was during this time of desperation. Jonah prayed.

“In my distress, I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.” Jonah 2:2

Back to the family room filled with packed boxes. I sobbed. The movers threw in a curveball of added expenses. More crying. I watched my Florida Gators lose badly to Alabama in an SEC championship game I felt sure we would win. More crying. (And maybe some screaming along with throwing my phone across the room, breaking it!) The culmination of months of bearing up, while being filled with fears of the unknown, and what boiled down to not trusting God with where He was taking me took me down to a pit of despair.

While my new path was not a matter of life or death, I did cry out to God, on more than just that day, trying to understand why things were changing for me in the midst of what I thought was “good” in his sight. As Jonah did, I prayed, over and over again.

The belly of a fish was Jonah’s vehicle for salvation and transformation. Mine was ultimately seeing that everything new—home, community and friends—was just what I needed to bring me closer to God. With stillness and patience, I was able to tune into the Holy Spirit and open myself to the fruitful possibilities and purpose God had in store for me.

It took an unexpected change for me to realize that God wanted me somewhere else, and it was time to listen up! Jordan noted that God often chooses a rescue plan that we would not choose. God heads us off at the pass of an undesired detour, or in my case, staying in the “safety zone.”

You, God, know my folly; my guilt is not hidden from you. Psalm 69:5

I can reflect back now and honestly say I am incredibly glad we are here. My life has been enriched more than I can express by being in our home, this town and this church. Two weddings, five grandchildren and countless beautiful experiences and answered prayers later, I have seen the expression of God’s amazing love and grace by surrendering to His will for my life. Singing the refrain, “God is my refuge” repeatedly this past Sunday was another reminder to put my hope and trust in Him.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

(I’m still teased to this day about that broken phone, and I haven’t thrown one since!)

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