Thursday, April 3, 2014

When you are in the wilderness

A banner hangs over the entrance to Jayci’s school; changing to reflect the seasons and holidays throughout the year. We drop Jayci off late, or almost late, for school just about every day. I’d like to blame our lack of timeliness on the steady stream of boys knocking sheepishly on our door after missing the bus; but at this point we know they’re coming, and truthfully morning-time-management falls woefully outside my realm of ability. Finally, this morning, I pause for a moment to peer up at the words I have been hurrying beneath for weeks now, splayed below an image of Martin Luther King’s face: Lent is the first step towards resurrection. I nod and smile vaguely at the reminder, before hurrying Jayci and Caden away from the flowers and towards their classrooms. True, I think to myself as I lament and sigh and attempt to hurry Caden’s I-can-do-it-myself attitude towards three flights of stairs. But it’s also true, I can’t help but think, that Lent is the first step towards death. And this season feels more like an exorable and somewhat painful march towards death than resurrection if I’m completely honest.

What happens, I wonder, when we suddenly find ourselves deep in the wilderness, even as we wander the aisles of the grocery store, and wipe dirt from our children’s hands, and sip chai lattes with friends at the coffee shop. When we keep praying and reading and journaling, but suddenly everything seems quite silent on the other end. I read testimonies and memoirs of those who found their life transformed by Jesus. Who gave up bulimia and drugs and alcohol cold-turkey when they encountered Jesus or discovered they were pregnant. But what, I wonder occasionally, about the ones who still wander amidst the desolate landscape of temptation and failure. Who fear finding themselves at the end of their days with a memoir that writes more like one who died in the wilderness than one who tread triumphantly over the threshold into the promised land. Who march mile after weary mile through a dust-carpeted landscape that alternates harsh unrelenting heat of day with the icy darkness of blackest night.

A year or so ago, I helped lead a Bible study for some neighborhood girls. One evening, we opened with prayer and I passed around notecards and pens. My friend instructed the girls to take a few minutes to draw whatever came to their minds when they thought of God. I remember closing my eyes, fist curled around a blue ballpoint pen, beginning to scratch lines onto the 3x5 card in my lap. Looking down at the blue ink figure, I am vaguely surprised to recognize the curve of my back leaning into prayer beside Caden’s bed in the CICU. Surrounding the whole scene, arms enfold both my bended form and my infant’s tiny beating heart. God feels close and intimate, visceral, bodily holding me near in comfort and peace.

In the wilderness though, the landscape looms spacious and vast. Wide, dust-filled, parched. God feels not close and intimate, but distant and a bit ominous. Perhaps even a mirage. Here, I suppose, we must rely less on how God feels but on the promises He has already fulfilled. Wandering, complaining and grumbling, I find myself learning to rest on the promise wrought beside a hospital bed, in the baptism of His presence draped over my shoulders calling me Beloved. And when the enemy whispers lies, when identity wraps itself more readily in what I do, or what other people say about me, or the things I have; then I lean into this assurance of an identity bought at great cost.

When I wrote of untethering, my only intentions were in giving up coffee, diet coke, and alcohol. Which seems less soul-shaking than “gentle lent” or 40 acts of stewardship or what-not. But it’s harder than it should be for me to remember how much more I need Jesus than I need my morning coffee, or my late-afternoon-how-will-I-make-it-to-bedtime Diet Coke break, or my thank-goodness-we-made-it-to-bedtime glass of wine. And so I give them up, only to be reminded again and again of my great inadequacies. Which, of course, reminds me on a good day of my desperation for Jesus and on a bad day makes me try harder. But trying and striving gets me nowhere in a wild landscape of parched land stretched farther than I can fathom in every direction. The only thing I can do is lay my head on a rock and rest, remembering the ways God brings water to a woman beside a well, and to equally grumbly Israelites stumbling through their own wilderness. And hope and pray that when I wake, having wrestled with the Lord, I will say with assurance: surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.

From where I stand, Ash Wednesday is but a distant speck on the horizon; and Good Friday looms still out-of-view. Lonely and solitary, I will myself to remember solidarity with my Savior. Each time I sit down to meet you in this place: to write words, or share pictures, or point you towards my newest favorite book, something stays me. Maybe God, or maybe writer’s block, or maybe a desperate need to cut some strings and celebrate freedom. All I know is that letting go of things in this wilderness season both scares and liberates me. I walk towards the light and hope desperately that I am headed to Good Friday and, yes, towards death. But also towards resurrection. And sometimes, I catch glimpses of what lies ahead. And suddenly new life springs, if not an assurance, than at least a promise.

8 comments:

  1. Beautifully written. I know that wilderness. Blessings to you!! And prayers for you this morning!!

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  2. Just wanted you to know i've missed your words the last few weeks. I think your soul is beautiful, even in the wilderness.

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    1. Your words made my day. Sigh. If only I could write again :-)

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  3. This is a great read. I know the wilderness feeling quite well. Sometimes I feel that I died in the wilderness...only to be reminded that my Savior lives...and I am never alone. May God bless you is my prayer.

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    1. I totally feel the same way about feeling like perhaps I died in the wilderness . . . I hear you. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. This was gorgeous. Yes, surely, the Lord is in the wilderness.

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    1. Thanks girl. And yes, I need to remember that He is present, always.

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