Through the desert, she crawled on her belly. The coarse grains burrowed into the scrapes, scratches, cuts, whipped lashes, and irritated the bruises that covered her from head to toe. Broken, jagged nail beds at the end of blistered fingers clawed the ground to try to find leverage to pull her weak, aching, tired body just a little further. Her breath came ragged through her dry, cracked, and scabbed lips. The blood dried in the brutal heat a long time ago. Her blurring sight and heavy eyes fought to focus as she knew there had to be more to this life. More than the pain, the struggle, the pulling of herself along to survive another day.
“Just a little further, I have something to show you.” A comforting voice encouraged her. It filled her with strength and curiosity. Could this mysterious something be the answer to the beyond that was better than this? Something to heal her or end her? She could either lie there, and everything would remain the same, or she could move that little bit more to see what waited for her at the top.
The ground inclined, and the sand slipped under her bare feet. It felt like glass shards slicing the cracked, dry skin. She didn’t know how much more she had, but she needed to find it. Something deep inside her pushed for survival—something at the top of the hill called to her.
She looked up, and in the glare of the sunlight, a bronze-skinned hand reached out to her. It was big enough to pick her up and carry her anywhere. It beckoned her to stretch out and touch it. In the heat of the unmerciful desert, the warmth that came from the soft feel comforted and embraced her. She grasped it with all her strength.
At the top of the hill, her legs still threatened to buckle as though her muscles were mere noodles. She breathed a little easier as a cooling breeze brushed her skin, removing the biting sand particles.
In front of her stood a cross with a man hanging on it. His hands spread wide, pierced with stakes. His feet held together with another. Shreds of skin from his back hung from his ribs. Trails of dried blood streaked his face from a mocking crown of thorns. The swelling of his cracked lips made her fingers trace her own. Only a soiled cloth wrapped around his waist gave him any modesty.
His lungs fought for air to whisper out the saddest words she heard, “It is finished.”
No matter how bad she felt, what she went through, how the fatigue tried to drag her body down, she was nowhere near this man’s condition.
“This is my one and only son,” the voice said, as though someone stood beside, hovered above, waited below her. It was all around. “Whoever believes in me shall not die but have everlasting life.”
Voices of familiar words filled the air around, jumbled in short sayings from times long past made present. “The Lord is my Rock and my Refuge.” “The harvest is plenty, but the workers are few.” “I have run the race.” Here I am, Lord. Send me.” “There is only one God.” “If it is your will, Abba, take this cup from me.” “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” “By His Stripes, we are healed.”
Lightning flashed, split the clouds, tearing the heavens from the earth. The ground shook in anger, and a cleansing downpour released in a torrent of sorrow around her. Curiosity pulled her closer to the hanging body as blood dripped and pooled at the foundation of the splintering wood. The rain mixed and expanded the puddle until it touched her feet. The next thing she knew, she was immersed, not in blood, but the warm, refreshing water. She wanted to fight in fear of drowning, but she knew she was not alone. She was washed, healed, strengthened. Her dry, cracked skin softened, the pain lessened, the fatigue replaced with electrifying energy. She swam in the healing waters, looking for any sign of land, up or down, not wanting to leave, but needing to find if it ended, if there were boundaries. Soon, her feet laid flat. Each step created a small storm in the wet sand, and she felt called to explore what laid ahead.
As her head emerged from the healing pool, her hair was no longer caked and standing on end with the strain of knots and disarray. It fell around her face softly, tangible, and straight. Her once dry and cracked skin felt new, moist, healed. As her feet met the edge of the waters and touched soft cool grass, she looked back with a longing to return and soak a little longer. She never felt so comforted, washed, renewed, and didn’t want to leave it, but she knew there was more to see and experience. She stepped onto the expanding field as a dove flew over, shadowing her from the bright, warming sun that no longer hurt, but lovingly dried her. The dove descended onto her head and became a flowing soft gown embracing and covering her.
“Come to me all that are weary, and I will give you rest.”
A glint in the grass ahead called her to come to see what lay in the tall swaying stems. A leather belt with a silver buckle spread out its length. She touched and caressed the tanned skin then put it around her waist. “I am the truth, the way, and the life.” The ominous voice that kept her company whispered to her in the breeze.
In the distance, she saw a group of men sitting around a fire. Time was not linear between the mid-day light she stood in and the glow of the fire outlining their faces. “Peter, do you love me?” one man asked the next.
“Lord, you know I do.”
“Then feed my sheep,” said the other man. He turned towards her holding a breastplate. Its intricate design showed a lion in front of a giant tree with a dove flying above - the same dove that clothed her in pure white cloth. The lion reared up on its haunches with its claws out, ready to fight. “Do you love me?” he asked in the softest, most inviting voice.
This was the one that saved her, called to her to find his body upon the cross. She saw the scars peeking out of his hair along his brow line. His hands holding the armor and the feet standing in front of her still had piercing holes. His robe lingered off his shoulder just enough to see the whiplash scar. The presence kept her safe in the water, which healed her body after he gave his own on the cross. His voice was the one asking for the cup to be taken from him. He went to the cross, knowing what it would cost him, scared and alone, and yet he did it. Now he stood before her with the permanent scars as a reminder of the payment.
He stood before her whole, healed body with a simple question. “Do you love me?”
“Then feed my sheep,” he said and placed the breastplate over her.
The warm breeze pushed her from behind to continue the journey. Again she saw the man from the cross standing amid a group of people. “Go into all the world and make disciples,” he said before he ascended into the clouds. His arms reached out, and his robes were like the wings of the dove that covered her. At her feet, she felt the wrapping of the softest fabric. It was as if the clouds themselves created protective wear. Peace filled with energy and strength to say she could do anything, go anywhere. “For I am with you until the end of time.”
With each new step forward in her new adventure, she felt stronger, freer, and lighter than ever before. She ran with her arms stretched out as far as they could reach, her face turned towards the sun and welcomed the beautiful light. She had a new life, refreshing, free, with endless space for her to run through.
She soon came to a tree. It stood tall and strong. As a breeze waved its long branches, a rain of tiny seeds filled her outstretched hand. A shield embedded with the same lion, tree, and dove as her breastplate posed the tree’s trunk. The silver shine glinted in the sun. The same tree that stood before her now protected her.
“With the faith of a mustard seed, you can move mountains.”
With shaking hands, she picked up the shield. Even though it felt light, it was strong and well made. The leather braces on the back fit her arm without having to adjust the straps. It was made for her.
A breastplate. A shield. Protection for her girth and feet. She just survived life’s battle and almost did not survive. Now that she stood renewed and at peace, she felt this journey telling her she would have to return to that battle. One way or another, it would find her in this meadow.
Behind the tree stood another hill. Upon a stone table, a crown shone in the sun. Its jewels sparkled and created a rainbow path for her to follow.
At first, she feared to take the steps, but she had to finish. She had to know what all this meant. The purpose of why she was saved, what she was called to, pulled like magnetic north on a compass.
A man at the top of the hill held a long staff, expecting her. He picked up the crown and held it over her head.
“The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my Father’s God, and I will exalt Him. The Lord is a warrior. The Lord is his name.”
Next, he handed her a long sword. Like the shield, it was light yet well made. The hilt fit in the grip of her hand, and her strength grew as she held it in the sunlight. The voice that followed her throughout this peaceful land again spoke.
“Take up the helmet of Salvation and the Sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
The man stepped to the side and spread a hand towards the edge of the hilltop. Below in the valley, a great war waged on in a dried-up wasteland. It reminded her of what she had just escaped.
“What you do for the least of these, you also do for me.”
“But I just found you, Lord. I just started to experience your peace. Now, you want to throw me back into the fight I barely survived?”
“Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
“Will you go with me?”
“I will never leave you or forsake you.”
The battle raged on, and the sword hummed in her hand. She raised it to watch it glint in the sun. The lion, the tree, and the dove inscrolled throughout the blade, and more whispers of encouragement echoed through time to bring their truth to the present.
“Whom shall I send?”
She was trembled and knew what lay ahead. Clothed in armor perfectly fit, made for her, given to her, to protect and defend, she did not have to face the battle alone or unprepared.
“Whom shall I send?” he asked and stood next to me.
“Here I am, Lord. Send me.”
She took a step forward to descend the cliff. Under her feet on the barren ground, the new life of green grass sprung up in front of her. The path was clear, though she did not see it. Every step she took, she created it. Each move forward of peace met the dead ground with new life. A meadow grew in her wake, and it empowered her. The battle grew close. She saw the severity of blows, strength thrusts, and the spark of each block of sword against a shield.
A horse’s neigh came from her right. She looked to see a fiery chariot with the horse’s reins held in the hands of an angel. To her left, another steed flicked its head to shake its long mane. The Lord kept his promise. She was not alone. The army of the Lord stood beside her, and there was a battle to be won. She could face it now with His protection.
His truth embraced her and hugged her around the waist. His righteousness, his protection over her heart, gave her courage. His peace enveloped her feet to ensure her steps. Her faith shielded her hands, held up to block attacks. His salvation crowned her, empowered her, and reminded her that He was always with her. His word was held in her hand to protect her and to strike back. She was saved, healed, set free, and chose to answer the call to battle.
She knew the path, and she already won.