This is a letter from the Prologue of Bread of Angels by Tessa Afshar. It is written by Lydia to the apostle Paul in AD 51.
I have never served as a soldier, yet I have the strange sense that most of my life I have stared down the blade of a sword, the face of my adversary haunting me.
My friend General Varus once told me that Roman soldiers prefer to use the single-edged sword they call the makhaira for the killing stroke: having a short blade forces them to come close, so that as your body gives way to the thrust of that unforgiving edge, all you can see is the face of your assassin.
You forget the world, you forget the ones you love, you forget hope and lose your fragile grasp on any remnant of a fight lingering in your heart.
You see only the visage of your adversary.
I know what it’s like to have a makhaira at my throat.
I know my enemy’s face. I know the scent of his breath, the stinging quality of his speech, the poison of his taunts.
He has cut me more than once with his short sword. I know his name.
He is called Fear.
He has hounded me from the time he first found me in a meadow, clinging to my father’s hand.
My enemy has a singular talent for hounding.
Do you remember what you whispered in my ear that day by the river?
When I bent my head to straighten the strap of my shoe, you leaned over and said, “No one shall separate you from the love of God.
Not trouble or hardship or danger. Not even the makhaira.”
I almost broke your nose, I sat up so fast; do you remember?
How did you know?
How did you know that I saw the image of Fear more vividly than I did the face of God?
That he always seemed more real, more powerful, more immediate than the creator of the sun and the moon?
That I could only perceive God from behind the shadow of Fear, that I always felt a little separated from his love?
You have asked me what made me trust God with such alacrity, so ready to jump into that river to die.
To leave behind the old, tired self and rise up new.
I think it started with your words.
The notion that God’s love could overcome the makhaira, so that even the thrust of Fear’s sword could not rob me of God’s healing presence.
Or perhaps I mistake the matter.
Perhaps my journey began long before that, when I still lived in Thyatira and believed my future firmly planted in that dear soil.
Perhaps I would never have stepped into that river if God had not first stripped me of home and hope.
My future had to be destroyed before I would be willing to set foot on the path that led to a new future.
A better one than I could ever have thought or imagined.
Do you remember, dear Paul, telling me of your frustration before coming to Philippi, when you sat in Troas, bewildered by the doors God had closed in your face?
You were ready to crumple your maps and forget your intentions; your journey had wrecked your careful arrangements more than once.
First the Spirit forbade you to enter the province of Asia so that you were forced to abandon the comfort of a good paved road in exchange for the challenges of a narrow dirt track, and then, when you tried to push through into Bithynia, once again he prevented you from following your plans.
So you sat in Troas, twice thwarted, studying your maps and scratching your head, wondering where you were supposed to go next.
If you had gone into the province of Asia as you intended, you would have come upon my old home.
But you would not have found me there, for I had left Thyatira long before. It was your vision that brought you to me on that riverbank.
Was it only a year ago?
God in his grace drove you to me by the force of his Spirit.
How laughable our plans sometimes seem in the light of eternity.
How blessed when they are destroyed!
The moon shines too bright this night and I cannot sleep.
My head is full of distant memories—shadows and ghosts of what once was.
They make me smile and weep.
They make me see the hand of God.
I will never send you this letter, which does not even have the courtesy of a proper greeting.
But thoughts of you fill my heart, dear Paul, and since you are too far away, I find solace in speaking to you through this epistle.
I lost everything when I was scarcely a woman.
I lost everything and found God.
But it wasn’t until you came into my life and told me the Truth that I found peace.
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