Lenten Daily Devotionals

Testimony: God, the Hudson and Me

I found God at Fifth. This is my story.

To understand how I got to Fifth, we have to go back in time. The year is 2011, and I am 26 years old. I am living in my oldest brother’s living room in Hawaii, which after 14 winters in North Dakota feels like a step up for me. In those uncertain, post-college years my life looked nothing like I imagined it would. As a student my plan was to move directly to New York City from Fargo to pursue my creative career—but I graduated college in 2008.

That time in my life is truly its own little paradise. I was able to spend plenty of quality time with my family, and I felt a sense of purpose in the jobs that I was working. Life was good. But what about my dream to come to New York City? As time passed I knew the window on that choice was getting smaller and smaller. On a particularly restless day I went to my favorite thinking beach seeking clarity.

I can definitely feel God at the beach. I can see God in the waves, in the sky, in the mountains. No one was around, no one was looking, so I found the courage to ask, “If I don’t make it to New York City, will I regret it for the rest of my life?” It was just God, the ocean, and me. In the stillness I got a very clear response. “Yes.” By early 2012 I had booked a one-way ticket from Honolulu to New York City.

To understand why I’m still at Fifth, let’s time travel one more time. The year is 2018, and I’m 33 years old. My life is falling apart. A five-year relationship has ended, I am couch surfing, and my income as a dog walker leaves a lot to be desired, economically speaking. On a particularly cold and rainy Monday, I receive a long-awaited email about a play I’ve entered into a festival. My play has been rejected.

I am humbled. Utterly and completely humbled. I find myself near the USS Intrepid on the Hudson, which has become my substitute thinking beach. People are around, but they politely ignore the weeping woman wearing a floral fanny pack. Adrift and distraught I ask, “Is this over? Is it time for me to go back to Hawaii?” It’s just God, the Hudson, and me. In the stillness I get a very clear response, “No. You haven’t yet begun to do the work you came to New York City to do.” The very next week I was ordained a Deacon here at Fifth.

God is here for me, because when I thought I had nothing else, I had the exact thing I needed to start over.

I’d like to close with a passage that has often brought me peace in times of uncertainty. Jeremiah 29:11-13 says, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and go and pray to me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek me and find me, when you search for me with all your heart.”

Hannah Bell has been a member of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church since May 2016. She shared this testimony during worship on Sunday, March 10, the First Sunday of Lent.