I cannot abide cockroaches. When I was six years old, my family moved from sunny southern California to the sunny, muggy upper panhandle of Florida. We road tripped across the lower United States, making several stops to see sights on the way. It was in a small motel in Louisiana where I experienced my first giant American Cockroach. My mother insisted we leave the motel immediately, because she could not bear the thought of roaches crawling near my then two month old brother. Since there was no other place to stop for miles, we drove all night until we arrived at our destination.

That experience convinced me that cockroaches were the spawn of the devil. I was petrified that one would crawl on me in my sleep, so I insisted on sleeping with my Bible from that night on for weeks. I was sure that the Holy Word of God would repel them and keep me safe as I slept. With my Bible securely in my arms I felt safe from the demonic creatures bent on our destruction. My parents paid an exterminator to come out every month, which kept the ugly vermin at bay, and left me to sleep in peace.

As an adult, I have learned to kill them when I have to…they are one of the few animals I will kill. Killing animals of any kind just rubs me the wrong way. Even killing cockroaches gives me the chills, but it is for the greater good. It must be done. These vermin are surely a direct result of The Fall.

One great aspect of being married is that my dear husband has often taken on the chore of killing roaches when he is around. (What a good strong man of God!) He finds it terribly humorous that I have such a fear of these insects, when most other bugs and pest like creatures barely faze me.

Much to both our surprise, my horrible fear from childhood came back to haunt me. One night this past summer, I fell exhausted into bed after a long day. I was eight months pregnant with our third child and hoping delivery would come early. Suddenly, I woke up to hear a scratching noise behind me! I sat up and listened, thinking I was dreaming. Again, a scratching and shuffling noise startled me from somewhere around the headboard. I jumped out of bed and gently woke my husband. “Listen,” I said. He heard it and bolted out of bed. I ran for the bathroom. I peeked out in time to see him pull the cover off my pillow, grab a shoe and start whacking at the floor. “What is it?” I whispered, fearful of his response!

“A cockroach,” he replied. That dear man gave me his pillow and took mine. As a testament to how utterly exhausted we both were, we climbed back into bed and went to sleep. I spend the next day disinfecting my whole room and calling the pest control people who regularly spray our home. It seemed that after we fixed a leaky pipe outdoors on the side of the house near our bedroom, the outdoor roaches had nowhere to find water. They were looking for a new home indoors, braving the poison that usually kept them at bay!

I still shudder to think that my head was that close to one of those icky creatures. Thank goodness for a wonderful husband who would risk life and limb to save me from the horror. And I mean the risk quite literally! This week we found out that he is VERY allergic to cockroaches! He says I will have to fight my own battles with them from now on. I think I may go back to sleeping with my Bible!

The night I had The Dream that changed my whole outlook on life, I had just turned 23. I was transitioning, uncertain, and insecure. I had committed to a new home, new housemates, and a new job; I had recommitted to a church that was in transition and a romantic relationship that didn’t fit; I wanted to be loved and recognized, and I hoped beyond all hope that I was making good decisions for my future.

The night before I moved into my new home, I dreamed that I went to a restoration for the body, soul, and mind spa. (Do those exist? Are they affordable?) I checked in and was given a list of personal, individualized assignments. The most prominent assignment on the list was that I had to spend my stay completely naked. (Yes, it started out as one of “those” anxiety dreams!) For some reason I accepted this list and reluctantly followed through. In the miracle of dream-worlds, I was not just naked physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. People could look at me and see everything about me: my hopes, my fears, my faults, my strengths, my weaknesses, my aspirations and motivations, and my sins.

Mortified, I found myself sneaking around the grounds, hiding behind trees and bushes, hoping no one would notice me. I remember the area was lovely. It was a garden of sorts, with people all over, talking and laughing. I wanted to join the fun, but I couldn’t bring myself to step out and let people see me. All of a sudden, the morning sun highlighted the most beautiful man I had ever seen in my life. He was perfect, and from my hiding place I could hear him talking to the group of people around him.

He was talking about life. The things he said made me jump with excitement. His perspectives were wonderful. He said everything I ever hoped I would hear a man say. Suddenly, I found myself in his company, and he was talking to me! I stared at him and drank in everything he told me with amazement. I had forgotten about myself, because he captivated my attention. I found myself falling in love with him. Then, I looked at myself and realized who I was. I was ashamed. He could see that I loved him. How ridiculous could I be? Why had I exposed myself? How could such a perfect man ever even think twice about me? I turned around to run away, but he pursued me. He gently grabbed my arm and turned me around. He pulled me toward himself and kissed me. He loved me, even as I was, exposed and insecure and ashamed.

I woke up. My mom, who had come to help me move into my new house, was sleeping in the bed with me and I silently groaned! How could I have just dreamed up such a perfect man? Especially when sharing a bed with my mom! How embarrassing. Definitely not a dream I’d be sharing…or so I thought. I couldn’t get it out of my head. It was haunting. It hurt, because I knew the man in my dream didn’t exist, and I was trying to make a dying relationship work.

I am an out-loud processor. I have to share my thoughts in order to really know what I think about them; but even so, I have many times in my life held things secret for fear of what people would think of me. Despite my insecurities, I was beginning to realize at that point in my life that keeping my weaknesses and issues secret led to unhealthy thinking and open doors for the enemy to mess with me. So when the Holy Spirit pressed me to share my dream with my new housemate, Amelia, I set aside feelings of ridiculousness and obeyed. She and I spent an hour that day analyzing the dream. She said some very insightful things, but nothing we discussed settled the agitation I felt over the dream.

That night I prayed that the Lord would show me what it meant. It had to mean something, because it wouldn’t let me go.

The next day was Sunday. I went to church and sat toward the front-left of the small store-front church building that seated 400 to 500 people. The number of church goers had dwindled to 200 because of some transition. But we were awaiting a new pastor and his family. I had attended this church as a member since I was 19, and stayed through the transition because the people there loved me. I didn’t know what the new pastor would mean for the church. I didn’t know that I was about to enter into one of the most exciting seasons of my life.

One of the elders stepped up to the stage after worship and read a Psalm. He then went on to talk about Jesus. He said, “Jesus is the lover of our soul. He pursues us the way a lover pursues His love. Even though we stand before him naked and exposed, He sees us and loves us. He embraces us…” As the elder spoke, I began to weep. The Holy Spirit whispered to my heart, This is the meaning of your dream.

I grew up knowing Jesus loved me. I trusted it at many important milestones in my life. But I didn’t understand that He LOVED me like that. He was the fulfillment of all of those insecurities and uncertainties. He gave me the love and the recognition I longed for. He knew me inside and out, spiritually, emotionally, and physically, and He loved me. I was bewildered. I hardly knew how to contain my giddiness. And why would I be such a blessed recipient of this understanding?

The realization changed me immediately! No longer did I turn to jealousy, when I felt someone else was receiving the attention I wanted. No longer did I hold people around me to impossible expectations. No longer did I manipulate to get the outcomes I felt I deserved. If Jesus loved me the way I really wanted and needed to be loved, then I didn’t need people to fill the voids in my life. If I felt hurt or betrayed or insecure, I asked myself, “What is the root issue?” Every time I answered that question, I knew Jesus already met that need in me at the cross and through His resurrection! It gave me the freedom to let go and forgive.

The timing of that dream could not have been better. It carried me through betrayal of a close friend, the break-up of the romantic relationship that was going nowhere, a rough first year of teaching in a school where my administration did not have my best interest at heart, the death of a friend and mentor, along with so many other ways life confronts the new bright-eyed college graduates of this world. On one of the most trying of those days, I remember crying with two of my housemates. I told Jesus, “The pain is so deep.” He responded to my heart, Yes, but my love is deeper. I felt the freedom to cry, but not despair.

Even now, over ten years later, I still go back to that dream. I am in transition. I feel we, as a family, are on a precipice of great and wonderful things. But I see that the going toward and through the wonderful things will also involve times of trial. I am tempted to feel insecure. I want someone to be proud of me, as a wife, a parent, a daughter, a friend, a Christian. It’s all silly, I know. I want to be those roles out of love, not for recognition. But the desire for recognition rears its ugly head, and I wonder if anyone notices my efforts. As I battle in prayer, Jesus gently reminds me that He has already filled those voids in my heart. I am dearly and deeply loved by Him. As I let His words sink into my heart, I can step forward in an attitude of giving from my abundance, rather than from my lack. I can care for others the way Jesus cares for me, never thinking of myself, because my eyes are on Him. It makes all the difference.

“You’d be good at running,” He told me one early spring day my junior year in high school.

“I don’t think so,” I replied to my friend, remembering clearly the whining I used to do in PE and cheerleading practice when we had to run laps. But, I was feeling a bit bored and out of shape, and the peer pressure was hard to resist. Plus, there was something inside me that was deeply curious and longed to try running again. I agreed to meet my friend out at the track for a “trial run.” I was sure he would have second thoughts when he actually saw me run.

That Saturday, he conveniently forgot his stopwatch. So when I ran a 100 meter dash and he assured me I was fast, I reluctantly believed him and agreed to try out for track. The horrible truth came out at practice: I am not fast; far from it. My first timed mile was 15 minutes! I ended that trial out of breath and miserable, but I’ve never been a quitter. I guess I felt that agreeing to try out meant agreeing to stick with it for the season. So I continued to show up for practice and even go the extra mile (quite literally) by running early in the morning with my friend to try to get into shape.

I can’t say I had a dramatic turn around that season, or really even the next, though I did cut my mile time in half and found my pace at the middle of the pack. But the great thing about running is the way God used it to speak to me about my spiritual life.

Every time I started to feel weary in practice a song based from Hebrew 12:1 started reeling in my mind: “Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us run, run, run, run with perseverance; let us run, run, run the race marked out for us; let us throw off everything that hinders, and let us run, run, run the race marked out for us.” That song started to have real meaning for me. I began to understand the battle that we face every day to get rid of the things that hold us back from the purposes before us.

My dad made a habit of pointing out the spiritual significance of physical things around us, or the spiritual meaning behind favorite stories. Because of that, it was second nature for me to consider running a physical representation of the struggles I faced spiritually. Only a few months prior to going out for track, I had given Jesus all of my heart and life and committed to following Him rather than myself. I was excited, but I was out of shape for the spiritual journey. He helped me understand through running what things like avoiding sin, longsuffering, and the joy of the finish meant from a big picture perspective. He taught me how to listen to a coach and be part of a team. He gave me the tools and gifts I needed and showed me how to practice using them so I would not lose them. As I grew stronger physically, I also grew stronger spiritually. I began to find victory in places I only once knew defeat.

One of my greatest lessons from running came years later when I was running cross country for my college team. My coach pulled me aside and told me, “Beth, you always slow down about three quarters of the way through the race, until you see the finish line. Then you give it your all and finish strong. But I don’t think you’ve ever run your best race, because you seem to give up mentally at the three fourths mark. If you could just push through that rough point and refuse to slow down, you would finish even better.” What an insightful mentor. I still marvel at how well that coach knew us and worked with us.

That day, the Holy Spirit convicted me that what my coach noticed about me in running also had spiritual significance in my prayer life. I would pray strong and believe God’s promises until I was about three fourths of the way through the trial. Then I would begin to doubt. I would stop praying as strongly and I would wonder if maybe I would ever see the other side of the trial. I confessed that I was weak in that area and I asked the Lord to help me.

My team-mates rallied around me, and in practice, they would encourage me if they saw me slowing down. I remember one friend put his hand on my back when I began to slow down as we were running the last leg of a long run up a steep hill. He didn’t push me, but just having his hand there gave me the strength I needed to keep my pace. It gave me a clear picture of what we are to be to one another in the body of Christ.

In Hebrews 3:13 we are told to “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.” Encouraging one another implies helping one another to keep up, to not fall back or grow weary in doing what is good. How beautiful it is when the body functions that way and we all allow one another room in our lives by giving and receiving encouragement.

My mind wanders to these stories today as I face a three quarter mark. Will I run with perseverance? Will I let the body of Christ rally around me? Will I look to fear or worry or doubt? Or will I look to Jesus who is the author and finisher of my faith?

Psalm 123

1 I lift up my eyes to you,
to you whose throne is in heaven.

2 As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God,
till he shows us his mercy.

3 Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us,
for we have endured much contempt.

4 We have endured much ridicule from the proud,
much contempt from the arrogant.

Psalm 121

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?

2 My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;

4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;

6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

7 The LORD will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;

8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.