This entire journey has been like following in the footsteps of Paul backwards.
I began in Ephesus. Scholars say Paul wrote his last known letter to Timothy while he was imprisoned awaiting his death. Timothy was stationed at Ephesus when Paul wrote to him. At the end of his life, Paul poured out his heart to Timothy.
Back in February, I began a bible study called Entrusted, which was entirely focused on 2 Timothy. I also attended IF: Local, a two day event dedicated to the study of 2 Timothy. Both of these occurrences lit a fire in me that had me wanting to know more.
After Entrusted was complete, I began a bible study with friends on the book of Ephesians called The Armor of God. In some ways I have been walking in Ephesus for most of the year. God has been showing me all the tools He has given me (and all believers) to help us move through this world. Then on October 2 I was able to actually physically go to Efes and walk the streets that Paul walked.
From Ephesus I traveled overland to Thessaloniki. Again, scholars indicate that Paul’s first recorded letter to the early church was written to the church at Thessaloniki. 1 and 2 Thessalonians provide insight into Paul’s heart for the church.
With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.
2 Thessalonians 1:11 (NIV)
The strangeness of following in someone’s footsteps while moving backwards is not lost on me. Even yesterday, when I was walking up the steep streets of the ancient city in Thessaloniki (Ano Poli) in search of the Monastery of Vlatadon, I found myself following the white arrows backwards! Someone has painted arrows on the narrow cobblestone pathways directing seekers from the gate of Vlatadon toward the Church of Osios David. The idea is to start at the top of the ancient city and work your way down. I found Osios David first and followed the backward arrows up to Vlatadon.
I believe all this backwardness is a reflection of how I have often lived. I gave my life to Christ at age 12, but then got lost meandering in the world on my own. It took many years and many struggles to get to a place where I was walking with God once again. Even after we were reunited, I still clung to my old ways, reluctant to give up everything that seemed “safe.” I had fully bought into the lies that I was “living”. My rebellious nature has often caused me to slip backwards in my walk.
Paradoxically, backwards is also a reflection of God’s Kingdom, where “the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16).
Over time, and through many adverse conditions – the greatest of which has been my own reluctance to let go of everything I think I know! – God has pulled me further from lies and closer to the center of truth which is this:
I belong to Him. I am a child of God, a daughter of the King. And I belong.
When you find the answer to the question, “Who am I?”, you will know where you belong.
This entire journey has been stripping away the last vestiges of doubt that have clung so tightly to my insides. Everything in me that believed I was not enough, not welcome at the table, not worthy of the mantle of Christ follower; every lie and deception I have ever bought into is being released. I have been released from the prison of my own anxious thoughts. I am brought back to myself, all the disparate pieces of my soul coming together, being mended by the grace of God.
At the beginning of this pilgrimage, I prayed at the House of Mary just up the hill from Efes. The presence and peace of God was so tangible there, like putting a soft blanket over your shoulders. It was safety, peace, healing, wholeness. I asked God who I should light a candle for? So many suffering, so much healing that still needs to be done. And I was overwhelmed by His response: “For yourself.” I lit a candle and prayed for my own healing. It was a moment of overwhelming grace. I cried my way through the House of Mary. I have been crying ever since.
In this whole backwards journey, God has been showing me who I am.
PS There’s so much in this journey that I have yet to unpack. I know it will take time, but as I am called by the will of God, I will make the effort to share what I have learned.