We left our house quietly last Thursday for a long-awaited summer vacation of four days in the mountains.
When we arrived at our rental, carefully chosen for its proximity to the rushing river, I flung wide the balcony door and the girls and I stood for a minute, enthralled by the sound of all that water streaming and surging down the mountain.
I spent the younger years of my life in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and then near the deep green, soaring peaks of Korea. Even college was a stone’s throw from Shenandoah National Park, and now I live in the majestic Rockies. Perhaps because I’ve been gifted this proximity to skyward trees and wend-worthy trails, I never looked for the sound of water until I was great with my firstborn child.
“Let’s go hear the ocean,” I said to Y, as we pondered destinations for one last trip as a family of two. And we did: we stood one night on a Californian pier I can’t remember the name of now, and I drank my fill of the rolling rumble of the waves. Every so often, though I can’t give a single reason why, I thirst for the sound of water.
So I’ve looked forward to staying by the river for weeks. The discovery that it was still running after every jaunt we made into town was astonishing every time — extravagant, even, as if I’d left the faucet on and come back to find it flowing unashamed torrents.
The river was the swashing backdrop to a vacation that wasn’t what we expected. I took a book with me that ripped away an old and incomplete scab to reveal festering fear beneath. I knew it would be a challenge to read The Hardest Peace, but I was unprepared for how it would dredge up my hidden and precarious assumptions about God and life.
Still, my fall humbled us and changed our perspective. What if it wasn’t a mistake that I was brought to town to start our journey in ministry as a broken woman? What if our journey was intimately planned to be hard, and that story is the good story? What if the glow of prosperity isn’t a glow at all but a unique stink? What if suffering isn’t to be avoided but received and embraced? (THP, 66).
I curled up with my knees to my chest and read Kara Tippetts’ chapters with the coldness of hospital corridors and the tight clutch of sickness-driven fear fresh in my mind. With one hand, I held the pages of her almost relentless road of suffering — a difficult move to a bloody fall to a wildfire evacuation to a cancer diagnosis — while the other kept the video monitor on so I could check on Little Jo sleeping. I needed to see her, even at 3 a.m., when my stomach was in hard knots from hearing sleepy whimpers and wondering if she was simply sad at passing the night in an unfamiliar place, or if it was something else that might turn into a trip to a hospital and a terrifying upending of everything normal for all of us. She doesn’t have a disease or a terminal illness, but the dread is still there.
Fear feels like water to me, I said to Y, as we held hands in the hushed hours of those three nights. Most of the time I can keep it at waist level, but when it comes up to my neck… that’s when I feel the panic of drowning. He nodded emphatically, knowing what I meant.
I didn’t know until this trip, I suppose until God got me away in a place where I had to hear Him, that this undercurrent of fear ran so deep. Early last year, I fell sick for a few weeks with something the doctors were unable to explain or remedy, and I think that since then, when the fear rises, every nerve in my body feels like we are skating on a paper-thin barrier as we live our lives. Multiple times in the past five years, we have experienced how suddenly lives can flip within 24 hours. One unforeseeable move, and we could rip through from “normal” to “surreal,” a merciless pull under the ice from which there is no return.
So I faced that fear, this trip: I looked into its ugly maw and saw how afraid I am that extended suffering could happen to my children, and that I would know, but be unable to see, how God’s goodness wins. Kara’s words were a complete testimony of hard-won, grace-given peace in grief. They didn’t exorcise the fear, but they helped me grasp it and bring it anyway to the throne of the God who has ensured that “by grace alone somehow I stand / Where even angels fear to tread” (Rend Collective). So there I stand now, holding these little ones I thought I held loosely until I paused, and found that my hand is clamped so rigidly around them that my fingers have to be pried open to let life into them again.
“Live each day as if it were your last” is a familiar mantra of these times, but there’s no use in following it in this ironic way, driven by a looming anticipation of agony. I am asking to trust that He will continue to direct our steps with unfailing love, and that He will provide whatever we need for the journeys that may come, but only just as we need it — not too early, and not too late. This is the trust of a child, as Corrie ten Boom said, who knows her Father will carry what we need until we need it.
I am consciously keeping one way of living preciously. In Kara’s words I hear the urgency and the truthfulness of a woman who knows she might die before its publication. Her honesty challenges me to consider my own, and the necessity of extending it more.
So I’m going to try. Despite all my continuing efforts to be a better storyteller and a more faithful intercessor, these posts may not always be linear or packaged well for sharing. But — please God — they will be real, because we who know His nearness have a limited time to share scars and clasp hands and bring chilled souls in to the place of forever celebration.
When condemnation grips my heart
and Satan tempts me to despair,
I hear the voice that scatters fear;
the Great I Am, the Lord is here.
O praise the One who fights for me,
and shields my soul eternally!
Boldly I approach your throne,
blameless now I’m running home.
By your blood I come,
welcomed as your own
into the arms of majesty.
– Boldly I Approach (The Art of Celebration), Rend Collective.