I love a good movie, don’t you? The best movies do more than entertain. They lift our spirits; they teach us magnificent lessons, lessons that enrich our lives; they transport us someplace beautiful. Among my favorite movies is Under the Tuscan Sun, perhaps because it takes place in Italy, the land of my people. -smile- In this movie, Diane Lane plays the role of Frances, a woman enduring the after-effects of a terrible divorce. She travels overseas, seeking solace and an escape from her troubles. In a powerful scene that changes the trajectory of her life, Frances shares with a new friend her deepest fear - that relief from her pain will never come. Her friend comforts her with this reply:
Signora, between Austria and Italy, there is a section of the Alps called the Semmering. It is an impossibly steep, very high part of the mountains. They built a train track over these Alps to connect Vienna and Venice. They built these tracks even before there was a train in existence that could make the trip. They built it because they knew that someday, the train would come.
In this cinematic work of art, Frances’ friend is telling her: release your fear and trust in what you cannot see in this moment. Have faith that relief from your troubles will come, in time. Don't be afraid - just believe. It’s funny how often life imitates art. This is a story of how God encouraged me in my faith during a very trying time, and how He continues to encourage me today.
While participating in a Bible study many years ago, I was privileged to meet a wonderful woman named Diann. During our time together, Diann spoke seldom – that meant that on the rare occasion she did, everyone took notice! She was the spiritual equivalent of E.F. Hutton! During our final meeting, we exchanged index cards with our classmates; written on each card was a list of the spiritual qualities the giver believed the recipient possessed. When I returned home from that last gathering, I sat down and read through the cards I’d been given. A note penned boldly atop Diann’s card to me stood out from the rest; it read: Don’t be afraid – just believe! I remember wondering why she wrote that note to me, but never had an opportunity to ask her.
Two years and many doctor appointments later, I was told I had advanced stage ovarian cancer. I remember struggling mightily to come to terms with this diagnosis. I was hungry for comfort from God, and wanted so badly to receive some reassurance from Him. Many from the church were praying for and encouraging me at this time, but I just couldn’t seem to find peace. Chemotherapy was making me violently ill, and I was in and out of the hospital with infections and dehydration. I was so discouraged, and some friends decided a camping trip before my next treatment might brighten my outlook. So off to Lake Bastrop State Park with those dear people I traveled, my Bible and devotional in hand. I remember sitting at the edge of the lake on Saturday morning, tears streaming down my face, praying that God would allow His voice to override the fear and anxiety taking up residence in my mind. I opened my devotional to the reading for that day (from Luke, Chapter 8):
Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him. Then a man named Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, came and fell at Jesus' feet, pleading with him to come to his house because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying.
…someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. "Your daughter is dead," he said. "Don't bother the teacher any more."
Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, "Don't be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed."
Don’t be afraid – just believe! Those were the same words that Diann had written on my index card two years earlier, and I now understood from where those words had come. It was as though God was speaking to me, reassuring me that all would be well. It was on that day, and perhaps for the very first time, that I believed God would heal me, just as He had healed Jairus’ daughter:
When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.”
They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, rise up!” Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up.
And He did.
Seven years later, I was preparing for my annual cancer check-up, and experiencing the fear that tends to accompany one of these appointments. I quickly prayed that God would grant me some reassurance of His presence, then got into my car to begin my trek to the Medical Center. As I approached the intersection that would lead me out of my neighborhood, my eyes were inexplicably drawn to a flashy company logo splashed across the door of an otherwise unremarkable truck. As I looked more closely at that logo, I realized that it read, Jairus Construction Company! Jairus! It was as if God was reminding me: Don’t be afraid – just believe.
I’d like to tell you that these powerful encounters with God instilled within me a rock-solid faith – one that is unfaltering… immovable… steadfast. But chronic health problems, the result of those life-saving chemo treatments years ago, sometimes alter my faith-filled perspective and cause me to fear. I fear that the pain I’m experiencing will never cease or will increase; I fear that I’ll miss out on yet another life event or occasion; I fear that I’ll never live as “normal” people do. Those fears introduce seasons of doubt into my life, times when God seems far away and my faith becomes as small as a mustard seed.
When those seasons blow through my life, that incredibly special verse of Scripture, Don’t be afraid – just believe, becomes a mantra, of sorts. Reciting it, over and again, serves to remind me of the miraculous ways God once moved and, more importantly, continues to move, in my world today. Believing in that truth calms my fears and fortifies my faith. And a fortified faith does infinitely more for me than a great movie can! That kind of faith enriches every facet of my life. That kind of faith allows my spirits to soar. That kind of faith transports my soul to a heavenly place – to a place where the God who loves me awaits.