“You know what the bears are thinking now, right? Pigs in a blanket!”
Funny until it turns out to be true.
We were at a camp near the top of Mt. Mitchell in Western North Carolina when a black bear mistook me for a tasty treat. It wasn’t until thirteen years later that I truly began to deal with the way it had affected my relationship with God. Some call it PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; I call it MSWG, or My Story With God.
The funny thing is, I thought I had no stories. Like many, I have been fortunate to grow up knowing, trusting, and loving God from the earliest age because of His generosity through faithful Christians in my family and the church body. I questioned what I was taught- and sometimes it seemed too big and crazy to believe- but doubt never took root.
So when we sat around the campfire sharing stories “that define us” at the beginning of our college 21 day wilderness course, I actually said, “I don’t really have any stories.” As has been said, “Be careful what you ask for.” About a week and a half later I had a story that turned into a local legend– but it took me many more years to understand it.
At first I was just grateful to God for rescuing me; that it hadn’t been worse. It was early morning when the bear wandered into camp, approached our tarp, and sniffed around. He must have smelled something good! Then, probably thinking my sleeping bag was filled with goodies, decided to take it with him. The only problem was, I was still in it!
As he dragged my sleeping bag (and me!) down the slope, I started to slide out, which surprised him and caused him to let go. Before I could get away, he grabbed it again, but this time with my leg included in his bite. I yelled, he ran, and my group packed up and hiked on down the mountain.
One bite on the leg. That’s nothing compared to the maulings- or worse- that others have experienced at the hands of nature. But fear began to take root within me and grew over time. I felt it creeping in on me now and then and fought it off by forcing myself back into nature– alone.
I was determined not to let that one experience rob me of the joy I had always found in God’s handiwork. But then I had two kids and the fear increased as I realized I wasn’t the only one at risk. As the years passed, the fear continued to deepen, settling within me and gradually changing me.
The turning point came when I was attending an EPC women’s retreat. Maybe I finally had time to think. Or maybe God decided it was time to properly deal with me. Either way, I came to the realization that I not only feared what nature could do to me, I feared God. Not the kind of fear we are told in scripture to have, the one that reveres God. No, just flat out fear of God. I still worshiped Him, revered Him, was grateful He had adopted me, but I feared Him to the point that I realized I couldn’t call him Father. My earthly father wouldn’t have let me be attacked by a bear, so why would God, who I technically believed loved me more than my dad?
As it turns out, God loves me so much that He wasn’t content with making it easy for me. He wanted me to say, “I will be bear bait for you if that is what you desire to do with me.” He wanted me to give up comfort, safety, control, and say, “Father, your glory is more important than my safety or the safety of my family. I am in your hands and there is no better place to be.” Even though I say it almost daily, I hear myself praying that He won’t actually ask it of me again.
I will choose to put my life in the hands of God because God is merciful and has already shown great mercy to me. The Psalmist says, “Better is one day as a gatekeeper in the house of the Lord than thousands elsewhere.” He is the one who “binds up our wounds” and “heals our broken hearts.” I can trust Him unlike any other. Psalm 91:4 says, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and protection.”
After many years it is easier to see that this is just one chapter in My Story With God. My heavenly Father may choose to use me as bear bait or let me view the landscape from the top of the mountain. The point is I have a story. One with many chapters. And I want Him to write them all.
Jessi Schatzle lives in Southern Illinois with her husband, an EPC pastor, and two kids, Davis and Josephine. She home schools, co-leads the women’s ministry at Hope Church, is a portrait and wedding photographer, and loves spending time in the great outdoors. Jessi serves as Chair of the WRC Communication Committee.
This is the first in a monthly “My Story with God” series. Over the next year, you will hear from each of the 13 members of the Women’s Resource Council.