I can hear the voice beckoning me forward.
By all Heavenly accounts, I have nothing to fear. Have I forgotten the miracles Jesus has performed in front of my eyes? Do I believe the testimony of wonders shared throughout scripture?
By all Earthly accounts, I have everything to fear. Voices of “reason” echo in my head. Don’t I know where I should be securing my feet?
My husband was laid off in March. Our severance package ended. And we held onto expectations for the way we would be rescued from our boat in the midst of this abyss.
But currently, we wait.
I glance down at the “water” that surrounds me. Wide and cloudy. No clear path is yet visible.
But Jesus stretches out his hand and keeps calling.
Does Jesus not realize what he is asking? How on Earth can it happen?
“Don’t be afraid. Take courage, I am here.”
I cry out, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”
Jesus replies, “Yes, come.”
So I step out of the safe confines of my “boat.” I dip a toe in. Fear holds me back from putting my whole weight on one foot.
The implications are not lost on me. I know people who have stepped into this place that is unknown; unpredictable. Didn’t some of them sink?
But this moment isn’t about them. It’s about me. There are plenty of human based reasons to refuse to walk toward Jesus’ voice.
But what will I lose if I don’t?
Ironically, I cannot walk forward if I remain balancing on one leg. So, slowly, I move the other foot in front. I can’t believe it! I am walking toward Jesus!
And then the winds begin picking up speed. Keeping my balance and my eyes focused on Jesus’ outstretched arm becomes difficult.
Another job prospect fell through. Our car broke down.
I didn’t expect this challenge. If Jesus is inviting me to come, why am I being knocked around as I make my way toward his reach?
What if I plunge downward?
Save me Lord!
Jesus grabs my attention.
A week long contract appears out of the blue. A side job appears. Our every need is provided.
Jesus calls out to me, “You have so little faith. Why did you doubt me?”
Truthfully? Because I’m human. Like Peter, who laid out the path ahead of me, I lean toward what my mind can grasp. It cannot comprehend the divinity which intersects in our Earthly moments.
Of course, I have witnessed wonders earlier in my life which can only be attributed to the works of a mighty God. Many times I have felt Jesus speaking to my heart and providing clarity. And, like Peter, I am no stranger to the accounts of miraculous activity in the lives of others. Scripture gives no shortage of those interactions. Both of us share the witnessing (he-personally; me-through scripture) of Jesus feeding a multitude with a few loaves and fishes. And what about that storm that abruptly halted upon Jesus’ command?
Still, fear lingers.
But I walk forward in faith. Because I simply can’t refuse to remain stuck in a false pretense of security. My current place of refuge may appear secure because it’s where I have found comfort. But ultimately, it only brought security because Jesus led me to it at one point.
Now, I’m being led to trust him once again. He has never let me down.
Peter, surely found security in following Jesus otherwise he would have abandoned him.
Jesus did not promise safety and predictability then and doesn’t now. But he does promise living abundantly.
So I walk to embrace it; legs wobbly but headed in a straight line toward him. And should the winds threaten to throw my balance off, I know that Jesus will grab me. Again.
I cannot pinpoint the exact moment, but at some mile marker along the road, I realized life is hard.
It did not resonate with my childhood expectations. I had not yet developed a full vision of the life that lay before me or an expanded worldview of the lives of others beyond my neighborhood. Despite the painful experiences that led me to my epiphany, I find blessings peeking through them.
My story is part of a bigger road map. God’s hand in my life really began long ago. Understanding that my life connects to those who came before me, those with whom I breathe the same air now and those who will come after me when I have exhaled for the last time shapes my identity.
Though we are individually created (Psalm 139:13-14), we are bound to one another. Our lives connect us. Literally.
Author Ann VosKamp refers to this joining together as “breaking into” each other. In her book, The Broken Way, she writes, “Koinonia is the breaking in, the willing participation, the fellowship of all things-and indwelling can’t help but weave its way through all the atoms of the world. The whole Earth is full of His indwelling. The broken way illumniates the whole material world, everything breaking into everything else. This is what love means: we live within each other, we inhabit each other…”
Life is hard-for everyone. Through all, times and all places. That reality doesn’t give me a free pass to shirk “breaking into” another. Actually, our own identities in this world are shaped as we live into other’s stories.The breadth of God’s character is revealed as we are illuminated by His work in each other.
We can even be broken into by those who came before us. It happens because we are all broken and we share the same Creator. Life has always been hard but hope has always been peeking through.
As I’ve navigated through various seasons, I am amazed at the different walking partners from scripture who have joined my side.
Hannah encouraged me as I waited on God for a child. Every month of a negative pregnancy test brought grief. Does God hear my prayers? Jealousy enveloped my heart as friends announced their happy news. Don’t they understand my longing to join their “club?” I pondered why my God and my body had betrayed me.
Hannah understood me. She longed for a child; enduring public judgement along the way. Privately, she mourned. Yet, hope poked through those clouds overhead. She recognized God held her hope and her identity .
Who would have thought Esther could relate to my circumstances? Besides the fact that she may not have actually lived, the pinnacle of her story takes place in a castle? (That alone would appear to separates us). How could being thrust into the position of a Queen compare to a calling as a stocker at Target? We were both placed by God for “such a time as this.”
There are many others who came alongside and whose steps broke into mine…Mary, Sarah, Ruth…Currently, Peter is my companion. My gaze lifts. I no longer focus on the steps left until my own designated finish line. Instead, my eyes focus on Jesus whose presence leads me to where I need to be.
The author of Hebrews exhorts us with these words of encouragement, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, LET US also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and LET US run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 [a]fixing our eyes on Jesus, the [b]author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Feel alone? Ashamed? Imperfect? Find comfort in the legacies of those with whom we are connected. Plunge yourself into the narratives of Hebrews 11.
Because of their faith, we find hope peeking through in the hard. Hope that propels us forward in such a way that we can run (not walk). Hope that motivates us to cast aside anything keeping us from reaching our destinations.
LET US run with endurance the race set before us.
With whom are you running?
I asked myself this a few months ago. After years, consisting of very long days, of family struggles with mental and medical conditions, the season began to change. At first, I dared not believe it. So many times, there had been brief glimpses of light as we forged through the darkness. But those moments seemed to fade quickly. Once again, we would be left trying to find our footing and walk forward together: my daughter, my two sons, my husband and myself. To say the relationships between us were strained would be an understatement. When one person in a family struggles, everyone is affected.
The dynamics between us does not resemble the picture I had in my mind before my husband and I started a family. My daughter began treatment for bipolar disorder at 9 years old (she is now age 15). My older son (age 18) has battled anxiety and depressionalong with a host of unexpected health concerns along the way. The youngest son (age 13), whom I call the “comic relief,” manages mild anxiety. None of their conditions define them, but they do affect the climate of our home. It hasn’t always felt like the refuge I hoped my husband and I would create. We have tried to initiate traditions, affirm each other’s strengths and attempt to carve moments of time together. We have sought out therapy, utilized resources and developed a support system. Humor has even found its way in. Yet, we couldn’t always keep the storms at bay.
Truthfully, the winds, at times, seemed so forceful I wasn’t sure I had the strength to resist them. My husband and I could be a strong force together; yet each of us developed our own methods of survival. We also felt as if the storm was invisible to everyone else. Mental illness carries a stigma. There are plenty of opinions regarding how to “fix” your child. “If we would just . . .” Meanwhile, the unpredictable nature of episodes and triggers as well as the financial stress and school concerns mount. And in the midst of it all, you are trying to sustain your marriage, pay bills and pray for endurance, provision and healing.
It occurred to me one day that this long season of storms may have finally transitioned into a season of calm. When you are so used to living in survival mode, you don’t always realize the storm has weakened. Weeks no longer seemed packed with doctors’ appointments, evaluating medications, financial distress, school battles, emotional burnout. It may be the beginning of a season of restoration. On the surface, a calm after the storm sounds welcoming. But, truthfully, the implications are daunting.
How do you begin cleaning up the mess?
Branch by branch, piece by piece. I remember a horrific storm that erupted suddenly about 10 years ago. When it was safe, we made our way outside to access the damage. Thankfully, our belongings remained intact. However, our street and our yard were filled with tree limbs and branches scattered everywhere. In order to move toward restoration, you must begin cleaning up the mess one branch at a time. It may take a while. And I’ve learned (reluctantly) that’s OK
Restoring our relationships with each other will take time. One branch at a time. I often wonder how my kids would relate to one another had our situation been different. I will never know the answer. It would be tempting to dwell on the “what ifs,” but that would require looking back. We are heading forward. The medical concerns have not resolved. The winds may indeed return. We have found space to breathe and rest. We have found our footing once again and set our eyes on God; who is in the business of making things new. I find inspiration in the promise given to the Israelites:
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)
Originally published at http://mudroomblog.com/cleaning-up-mess/, this post also appeared at https://themighty.com/2016/10/when-things-calm-down-parenting-children-with-mental-illness/
Several years ago, my preschool son drew a picture of Mary and Joseph. Not just any picture, mind you. Usually, the manger scene as represented through the eyes of a child wielding a crayon finds its place on a paper canvas. But Eli’s mind captured a different scene in the narrative. He captured what he believed to be Mary’s perspective on a long journey.
“Are we there yet?”
Long journeys arouse restlessness in my youngest. He tends to be very organized and finds comfort in checking off lists. Oh, he loves adventure and even surprises but he’d prefer them to unfold in a brief, orderly process. His eye is fixed on a goal and arriving there according to his timeline and expectations of the journey. Imagining Mary on a long trek to anywhere brought empathy from him.
Little did he realize that traveling to Bethlehem signified a very small milestone on the road leading to God’s purposes for her.
Only nine months earlier, this teen found herself ordained to a new purpose. Unexpected, Holy. Scandalous. Sometimes new paths entice us with a sense of exciting adventure. Although Mary offered praise to God for this new calling (Luke 1:46-55), I’m not sure even she fully understood the earthly ramifications of such a journey.
How do we respond to those seasons in our own lives when we suddenly find that the familiar path we are accustomed to trodding is closed off?
A detour sign emerges-signaling that the better route is the new, unfamiliar one. Reluctantly we begin; not knowing where it will take us. Unaware of what we may encounter along the way. Often, it seems, the detour takes way longer to arrive at the destination than had we taken the shorter, familiar one. At least that’s what we believe. But….the detour sign was there for a reason.
Are we there yet?
As the detour continues longer than anticipated, we grow weary. Surrendering ourselves to the One who plots our course can take us to places we’d rather not visit. The physical, emotional and spiritual compressing takes its toll on our earthly selves. Haven’t I walked far enough? Is there something else of which I need to let go?
Nearly nine months into her pregnancy, she and Joseph were required to register for the census in their hometown. Not convenient for this couple. Three grueling days is the estimated time span of traveling by foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Ninety miles were spent navigating a rugged terrain and daunting hills. In addition, the chilly weather, dense forests of the Jordan Valley, and hidden predators made the trip particularly dangerous.
However, it was not as dangerous as the place that exists outside of the will of God. Mary, in her praises to God, acknowledges the accounts of God’s character displayed through His people. Merciful. Strong. Provider. Creator. Sustainer. Holy. With those narratives alive in her mind, she kept walking.
Are we there yet?
The detour continued. Did Mary wonder if her detour culminated with Jesus’ birth? Is that “there?” As she feels the baby wiggling, does she ponder where along this road, the promised King living inside her would make his debut? “There” may have appeared as a foggy destination.
Henri Nouwen writes, “To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life. So is trust that something will happen to us that is far beyond our own imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our imagination, fantasy, or prediction.” (“The Spirituality of Waiting”)
Mary trusted that God was weaving a narrative far beyond her own imagining. And that is why she kept walking. To “There.”
As I ponder Mary’s journey, I am reminded of my own detours. Some I have embraced. Others have been met with protest. The new journeys took me into unfamiliar territory. Some treks I would prefer not to take again. Yet, God walked with me. And molded me. And loved me. And assured me that I had nothing to fear.
Because no matter my destination, or where I think it may be, God is with me. Always.
When I question the unexpected turns, God is with me.
When I stagger because my body is worn from fighting evil forces preying on my soul along the way, God is with me.
God is with us. Immanuel.
14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you[a] a sign: The virgin[b] will conceive and give birth to a son, and[c] will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14
Because of Him we have hope. We have no need to fear wherever life takes us. Like Mary, we can keep walking.