Photo courtesy of Jamie Marie Photography
At times all of us do things (at least in part) to prove to others and/or ourselves that we can. Some things are relatively simple; others might be feats only a few people accomplish in a lifetime.
Whether it was initially true or only solidified over time, in the end I tried to prove that I could do it–I could survive in this place I loved: Alaska. I did for awhile. Finally the fact that I was ultimately fighting against myself (and losing) led to a bittersweet ending. I could not do it. More importantly, the fact that I could not do it was not bad; my inability became my path to true wholeness. But I did not know any of that at the beginning.
August 8, 2006:
This past weekend I moved 3546 miles from Missouri to Alaska.
Many of my friends are on similar new adventures. I just chatted with a friend who moved to Germany for a year of missions work. Another little sis emailed to let me know she’s home (in China) from a month in Uganda where she did relief and ministry to AIDS orphans. A third friend is getting ready to leave for Kenya. One of my mentors just returned for the second half of her five years in Poland. The list goes on and on.
But when you get down to the bottom line it doesn’t really matter if you are in Tanzania (like my former roommate) or Topeka. The great adventure is not in the outward circumstances–the language spoken, the climate, the food–but in the heart where God transforms lives. Watching Him make His people more into His image, more fitted to serve Him, more whole, complete people: this is what gives life its purpose.
Sure, I’ll likely need to be content to only see six of the seven continents in my lifetime (I can’t imagine being able to justify a trip to Antarctica…). But nothing can quell the thrill of following God through hard times and good.
There were days I could not see it, but now that I am no longer in the darkest part of the valley I can say it with my head held up: He is faithful. We choose to believe the eternal truths which have not yet come to fruition. This is the essence of faith.
It would be easy to list some good things from this season and leave it at that. Who likes to hear bad things anyway? Isn’t that why we invariably answer “fine” when asked how we are doing? Most likely it’s not true, but that is what we think the questioner wants to hear. It’s a safe answer. Safe is good, right?
Only true safety. The safety that comes from the Lord as our refuge does not shut out all pain, fear, and betrayal. We know this yet still cry out when these things make an entrance in our life. I knew my Father was working through my season in Alaska but I could not see. If you are going through a season so dark that your eyes ache from the strain of trying to see, take heart. God’s work is not affected by the strength of our vision. Our souls are safe in His hand.
The emergency room sign, in some ways, aptly encapsulates my season in Alaska. The largest chunk of my time there found me at the hospital: I walked past the emergency room and took an elevator to the third floor pediatric center. My days were filled with answering phones, sorting medical records, computer work, trying to get the height and weight of the children, and lunch breaks spent trying to keep swimming in relationships and physical circumstances which promised to drown me in the end.
The combination of stress at work, heartache in relationships, and a useless fight against my own body’s limitations knocked me flat on my face. Much of the time in those long weeks I was too upset to eat or sleep. If I spoke to a friend back in the lower 48 it was only on the most surface of levels. I knew I could not keep going but I did not know how to stop.
The emergency room and hospital hallways held not only the memories of long work days but also the sort of experiences you wish you could forget or erase. Trips to visit friends in surgery, a late night vigil in the ER with another dear friend, and the night I gave up, gave out, gave in, and admitted myself.
My night in the hospital, before my mom arrived to help me return to Kansas City, brought a strange sense of relief. At last the burden no longer rested on my shoulders alone. Admitting I couldn’t do it broke me.
Why was I so afraid to let anyone see how sick I was–how much I longed for death? If there is a prize for the pilgrim who reaches heaven with the least amount of assistance (and I doubt there is), I will not be in the running. Somehow, I do not think King David is either.
Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me! For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me; you take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God. – Psalm 31:2-5
During those nightmarish days I had no choice: I had to commit my spirit to God’s keeping. No one else could help me. Only He was able to rescue and heal from such a huge hurt as this.