To Be Like Deborah
Candace Blackwelder | March 05, 2019
What do disappointment, desolation, and dwelling have to do with Deborah, the judge of Israel? All these “d” words are part of the unfolding of my first year as an intern with RUF. At 12:01am on October 1, 2016, I eagerly checked RUF’s website to see if the application was available. To my disappointment, the application was not yet live. I woke up the next morning with the intent of submitting my application ASAP! I had been assured of the Lord’s calling to this job for some time now, and my heart yearned to begin this new adventure. About three months later the day following my graduation, I received a text from my campus minister, Jonathan Davis, to ask me to come over to their house to reveal my placement. With much anticipation, I was welcomed into the Davis home with the lure of a brownie cake covered over. 3-2-1! This chocolate goodness inscribed with the name “Lehigh RUF” was revealed. Jonathan shouted, “You’re going to Lehigh University!” Before I could run these words through my brain, I blurted out, “Where is that?” Jonathan exclaimed, “It’s in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.” I said again, “Where is that?”
Although I am ashamed to admit it, I found myself disappointed before my employment with RUF even began. Sadder still is the fact that my disappointments didn’t stop there. About six months after my placement, I went to visit Lehigh University for the first time. During the day, my family and I walked the beautiful but steep campus and explored the city of Bethlehem. That evening, I went over the Campus Minister’s house. I was going to meet my students for the first time at Lehigh RUF’s end of year BBQ. When I walked out to the backyard, there were four or five guys standing outside. As I tried to strike up a conversation with them, I thought to myself, “Where are the girls?”
Throughout my first semester at Lehigh, I found myself asking many questions of disappointment all culminating in this: Why did God send me here? I felt like I had moved to such a desolate place. I found myself confronted by the coldness of winter, North-easterners, and a post-Christian society. Desolate. The SteelStacks of Bethlehem still stand as a reminder to greater days of industry. Desolate. Lehigh was a “Hidden Ivy” university filled with students driven to lock themselves up in the library to study, the lab to do research, and the frat homes to party. Desolate. RUF was smaller than I was used to and had less than a handful of female students for me to minister to. Desolate. Why did God send me to such a desolate place?
Amidst the clamoring thoughts swirling my mind and the idols of comparison, performance, and finer experiences crowding and tugging at my heart, I tried to remind myself of the greatest promise: Emmanuel, God with us. In the first semester, I only had glimpses of why the Lord had uprooted me to move to Bethlehem to serve him at Lehigh, but I trusted that He knew what he was doing. All that was required of me was to dwell amongst Lehigh students and wait upon the Lord to do His great work. Due to the small amount of female students I was making connections with, I found myself with more down time on campus than I had expected for this job. In those blank blocks of time on my schedule, I would go to various locations on campus that were highly
trafficked. I would find a seat in the middle of the action, and pull out a book to read. Each time I hoped and prayed that I might run into a student. Looking back on those times now, I think many of the most important conversations I had with students, both male and female, were when I simply dwelled.
With a deadening winter lurking, the spring semester began. My campus minister preached through Jonah, Judges, and Ruth. One large group meeting, Michael was preaching on the role of men and women by taking a look at Judges 4. As he began by reading, I was blown away by these words, “Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wide of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgement.” (Judges 4:4-5) You know those sermons that hit you so hard that is makes you feel like the pastor purposely wrote this sermon for your ears? My heart started beating faster and I held back tears at this thought: I felt like Deborah. She was a judge in Israel at a time when the nation “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord”, a phrase repeated throughout the book of Judges. In the midst of a spiritually desolate nation, Deborah trusted the Lord by sitting under a palm and waiting for God’s people to come to her for help. My heart was encouraged that night to know that sitting for a few hours in an arm chair in the Linderman Library on a Monday afternoon was what the Lord has called me to here at Lehigh. I was learning to be like Deborah.
Now I promise you that the RUF Internship is not entirely depressing. There are so many beautiful moments of fun and laughter. This really is the best job ever! Nevertheless, this is a hard job, but it’s a good hard! In my first year, I’ve grown to see more clearly what the work of the Lord looks like in a desolate desert. One of the desert’s great wonders is the cactus. God designed these plants to survive the blazing sun and store up water to sustain them for years. Like a cactus, the Lord has provided perfectly for me in the RUF Internship. Everyday he gives me all I need to press on. On the days where I feel like my heart needs water, I can cling to His Word and go to Him in prayer to quench my soul. Not only does my Lord seek to sustain me in the desert, but He flourishes me there. Have you ever seen a cactus flower? Isn’t it amazing that in such a desperately dry place, a delightfully vibrant flower can come forth! Such is the work of the Lord in desolate places. God’s work is beautiful everywhere, but somehow to my eyes the work of the Lord in the Northeast has become even sweeter to me.
So I might feel friendless and lonely in Bethlehem, PA, but Jesus is with me. He has drawn near, and the Holy Spirit is shaping me more into Christ’s likeness. In RUF, we believe that God is at work. One of the biggest lessons I’m learning in the RUF Internship is how to live that out. The act of waiting on the Lord carries the assumption that God is at work. I’m learning to be like Deborah and wait in the shade of the palm for God’s work to be done and His Kingdom to come.