Just because your child dies doesn’t exempt you from other crap; life continues in all its incredible messiness. There are still challenges that can feel absolutely overwhelming, and in my soul-depleted state, turn my heart back to the cliff’s edge, overlooking that dark valley of despair and hopelessness.
On my absolute worst days, I let my fears run amok. My head becomes fuzzy, my thinking shrouded in grey fog. I either cannot act/move/ function at all, or I over-function – attempt to manipulate timing, opportunities, events and people in order to try and control (insert maniacal laughter here) situations or circumstances. It has taken me years – thank God for good friends, for my life coach! – to identify this behavior as ultimately dishonest and even harmful, years to even begin to release my fingers from their death-grip on the joystick of a game controller that…isn’t actually plugged in to anything. I have No Control Over Anything except myself, and even then…often not.
Underneath all that sturm und drang, it’s always the same questions I am asking:
What does it mean to trust God? Especially in really really difficult circumstances, when we are terrified, wondering if God is even THERE? How do we ACT, how do we LIVE while we are “trusting God?” and while it feels like things just keep getting worse?
I was pondering all this yesterday morning. My devotional readings as of late all seem to be pointing me in the same direction of this radical trust, this radical way of living where I operate under the belief that God is there, able to work with all this pain and mess and human freedom, and still make miracles and good stuff happen. I kept thinking of the most loyal, well-trained dog, one whose eyes are always, always fixated on its master. That image may turn you off completely, and I’m sorry – bear with me. The point is this: if I keep “looking at God” — keep trusting, keep hanging on even with fingertips and toenails — in faith, knowing His character is defined as LOVE, then I can live more in and at peace…without feeling like I have to DO SOMETHING except be myself, be honest, stay in relationship.
And then I went for a long walk.
As I left the house, the plan was to walk around the lake, as usual. But within 1-2 steps I had another thought, “No, I’ll walk to the country club again,” where Mark worked for two summers. It’s an exercise in pleasure and pain, to retrace his route through the park and into another neighborhood, the trails and hills he rode on his bike. I’ve only done this once before.
As I walked, I did my usual talk-to-God-Jesus-and-Mark stuff, sometimes aloud (that is me, the crazy woman muttering to herself). I also tried to stay in the present moment, to open my eyes fully to what was around me. I breathed as deeply as I could. I thought about Jesus and the bittersweet brilliance of his sacrifice and how the doors of heaven have been thrown permanently open because of what he knew must happen to get us past all that STUFF (rules, rituals, boxes) that limit us/we let limit us in our relationship to God. I thought about the coins (found a penny on our closet floor on my birthday a few days ago, found a dime not long before that) and what they mean….whether they are always/already there and I just notice them because of a new awareness, or if they “appear,” put in place à la Patrick Swayze levitating a penny on his ghostly finger in that movie. Half-jokingly (because this is too weird to think about, much less TALK OUT LOUD ABOUT WHILE I AM ALONE), I mused that, if the latter, obviously dimes would be easiest to move, followed by pennies, then nickels and quarters. I said out loud (because I am crazy), “Oh! A nickel! That’s interesting. I’ve never found a nickel.”
I noted some little paved paths and bridges across creeks, leading through the trees to other parts of the neighborhood, and wondered if Mark ever got off his bike and explored, as he headed home (never on the way TO work — he was always “almost late”). I turned around at the busy road and headed back toward home. As I got to the bridge across the railroad tracks, I was idly noting the surroundings. I saw there was a small dirt path to the right, just before the bridge opening, struck by bikers or kids or whomever wanted to create their own way. I thought “maybe I’ll just go see where this leads…that looks kind of peaceful back there.”
I went down the path. As I got 20 feet in, I saw about 30 feet farther down, a tree had fallen across the path, creating a seat upon which to sit, a place to ponder. OK, I’ll keep going. There was a condom wrapper to my right, nice….a little farther and I got to the fallen tree. I stood in the silence – no trains right then – and thought, yeah, Mark might have sat here. It’s peaceful, shady. I may have sat for a moment myself, but whether I did or not, my gaze fell to the ground on the other side of the fallen tree, the far side. In the dirt lay a shiny nickel.
It’s not about money, you know. It’s not about the value of any coin. It’s about one big fat mystery, about whether there is more than this life we know here and about whether God is there/here, caring, watching, engaged. That whole walk felt random – the decision to go a different way, the choice to briefly explore the path by the tracks – and I did not feel “compelled;” choices arose and I made them. And yet God was there, and Mark was there (laughing himself silly, I think), and the nickel was somehow there, waiting. I am comforted, I am overwhelmed, I am a little weepy and giddy. I hardly know what to think. But I do know this now: I’m not alone.
The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9