While The World Is Getting Darker

We hadn’t gone far into the very, very long bike tunnel when the inky blackness started closing in. It hit me first. My husband was ahead of me, although I could only hear the muted sound of his footsteps crunching on the gravel beneath his feet. We had heeded the sign entering the tunnel: “Walk bikes through this tunnel.” Now we were glad we had. The other end of the tunnel was a pin prick of guiding light. In a flash, it suddenly disappeared without warning, leaving us disoriented and confused. Unbeknownst to us at the time, a cloud cover above had cast a shadow, hiding the small visual of light. Now, halfway through the tunnel,  I began to panic. As I lifted up my hand an inch from my eyes, I saw nothing but darkness. A quick look to the rear gave no hope either. The tunnel entrance had all but disappeared in an instant. Fear set in.

IMG_0843
IMG_0843

Never in my life have I experienced anything as unnerving.  The sound of dripping water eerily plunked overhead. I stumbled into my bike and then into my husband as the darkness enveloped us: front, back, head, feet, left and right. I felt as if I was going to topple over

We stopped. Since we were literally blind to our options, we had to. We had arrived at a decision point. What do we do next? Go forward and try to get to the light, or retrace our steps and attempt to get back to where we had started? Our voices reverberated down the tunnel. The sound was taunting as it returned, intensified as the echo bounced around on the rocky surfaces.

Lost my way
Have you ever found yourself in a spot like this during a tough time in life? Things are closing in on you. You don’t know what to do or which way to go. You stop. You call out, and no one answers but your own frightened voice. You do not know what to do next. Your heart starts to pound from fear and your mind becomes paralyzed with doubt.

If you answered no, then all I have to say to you is, get ready. At some point in life you will find yourself here. If you answered yes, then you can identify with the feeling I have just described. What if someone you love is suddenly taken from you? Perhaps your child is deathly ill, or has made a life-altering decision you cannot fix. What do you do? Sadly, the unthinkable things in this life happen to real people, just like you and me.

In my moments of despair, indecision, sadness or trauma, while the world seems to be getting darker and darker, I often feel as if I have lost my way. Thankfully, I know there has always been a bright light alongside me, too. This light is a constant and will never fade. It's God’s love for me (and for you) in Christ.

Like the inky blackness that engulfed us in the tunnel that day, the love God has for his people is all-encompassing. Unlike a darkness causing fear, God's love wraps us in a blanket of comfort and hope. In the tunnel of despair, God’s love is wider than my doubt, longer than my fear, higher than my hopes and deeper than my sorrow. In Ephesians the Apostle Paul reminds us of this amazing love.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Ephesians 3:17b-19

Lessons learned
After we stopped and debated what to do, the sun must have come out, because all of a sudden the pinprick of light returned. Even though progress was slow at first, we walked our bikes toward the tiny aura of brightness. No longer afraid, I began to sing hymns out of sheer joy at being rescued. The pin prick became a dime, then a nickel, then a quarter. Finally we could speed up and quickly put the darkness behind us. Thank you, Lord!

The practical lesson learned? Bring a flashlight! The spiritual lesson learned is so much more important: when in doubt and darkness, never forget how unshakable God’s love for you in Christ has been and forever will be. In dark times, stop and remember what Jesus says.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

By the way, if you want to have the same thrill of biking through these tunnels in Wisconsin, search for the Elroy-Sparta trails. Over one hundred years ago three railroad tunnels were hand-hewn through solid rock, ranging from 1,694 to 3,810 feet long. They were completed in 1873 after one and a half years of digging. For 90 years they served as a thorough-fare, shipping cattle and goods from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River and back again. In 1971 the rails were turned into recreational trails and since then have been enjoyed by hikers and bikers.

Oh, and one more thing. Do remember your flashlight. It will make the trip much less scary!

Afraid

fear

Do you have any fears? I have a few.

I’m not a fan of heights, I give spiders a wide berth, and I break out into a cold sweat if I hear the words “tornado” and “warning” in the same sentence.

Once I lived in an old farm house that had one of those nasty old basements with thick rope-like spider webs strung amongst hundreds of spiders. Non-surprisingly, I never went down there. Except one day a tornado touched down on the opposite side of town. I had to go down there. Crouching in that nasty basement with spiders all around me, tornado sirens blaring, I thought “the only way this certain death of mine could be worse is if the tornado crushed the house sending spiders falling on top of me and then hurled the whole house over the edge of a cliff.”

I’m still alive. For now, anyway.

A few days ago I had another “tornado warning” experience, this time with my children in tow. I’ve gotten so used to living in a city on the shore of a large lake, where tornados are rare. But just an hour or two west of us, watches and warnings are far more commonplace. We were at my sister-in-law’s wedding reception, allowing the kids to dance with glow-sticks a bit before heading home. It was almost 10 p.m., and I was feeling about ready to leave when the DJ suddenly stopped the music and announced “I’ve just been informed we are under a tornado warning. Please step away from the windows and into the hall area by the bathrooms.”

Pure visceral response: my heart began pounding in my chest as adrenaline kicked in and I panicked inwardly. We were at a bowling alley, a giant box with no basement to run to for safety (and lots of heavy balls for a tornado to pick up and whip at us! Yay!) I grabbed my 9-month-old and my 3-year-old (my husband had my 2-year-old) and yanked them not only into the hallway, but into the bathroom, and then into a bathroom stall. I sat them on the floor and locked the door (as if a locked bathroom stall door would help protect against a tornado). My daughter, sensing my fear, began to ask a million questions and became visibly upset when I didn’t immediately answer all of them. Answering her was difficult; my brain was too busy trying to decide what the best way to shield my children with my body would be if the tornado struck. Bathtubs are supposed to be somewhat protective. A toilet is a heavy porcelain object like a bath tub. Should I attempt to put my baby in the toilet?

These are the crazy thoughts I think in the face of tornado warnings.

Meanwhile, I noticed a missed call from my mom and remembered she had left the party just 20 minutes prior. She was out there in the tornado warning! Upon this realization, my phone ran out of batteries, leaving me unable to even look up the radar. At that moment, crouching in a bathroom stall with two of my children, I had no idea whether a sighted tornado was about to strike the bowling alley in two minutes or whether somebody had simply sighted suspicious cloud activity ten miles away. (My mom later told me she had driven through the warning area, and little pieces of cloud were reaching down from the sky like tendrils, each capable of forming into a tornado at any moment. Eek!) I didn’t know where my husband and our other daughter were. I didn’t know if my mom had called me to send me her final words before she was devoured by a tornado or to reassure me of her safety. I had no idea how I was logistically going to protect both my children and myself if a tornado really did strike. I tried to imagine what that would be like, wind whipping debris through the bathroom and tried not to think about it. Instead, I breathed deep in an attempt to keep myself and my children calm and tried to prepare us all “just in case.”

I answered my daughter’s questions about tornados. No, they are not friendly and nice. Yes, they can hurt you. If one happens this is how we are going to protect ourselves. Put your face down and cover your neck. Mama loves you. Jesus loves you. Should we say a prayer to Jesus right now? Let’s pray.

Nothing feels more morbid than reminding your children of Jesus‘ love with the thought that they might possibly be with him at any moment. But shouldn’t we be doing so daily, if not hourly? After all, the possibility of meeting Jesus at any moment is a real one for us all, whether we are in a tornado warning or walking down the street.

We said a prayer together, and I immediately began feeling better. In the face of my fear, all I could do was trust God that everything would work out in the end. Either we would survive, or we would go to heaven. Either way, He would be with us. This isn’t to say I wanted the tornado to happen or anything, but I stopped breathing heavily and calmed down a little. Shortly after we said our prayer, news began spreading amongst people in the bathroom (some of which did have working radar on their phones) that the storm was going to miss us. Five minutes after that, the warning ended completely and everyone went on with their lives.

I wish I could say I bowed down in gratitude to the Lord immediately after the threat of the storm disappeared and lived with renewed vigor after that, but to be honest I spent the rest of the evening being impossibly cranky. I wanted to get home after that, but my husband wasn’t as eager to leave. I was having trouble figuring out where the storm was in relation to our route home (I did NOT want to drive through it on our way back home), and he wasn’t helping me to figure it out. It wasn’t until we pulled safely into the parking spot behind our home that I thought to say “gee, thanks, God, for protecting us from the storm.”

I have other fears in my life. Lately, I have been fearing living fully for God. He calls us to live a life of sacrifice and love, one that doesn’t ask “how much money/time/effort/social status/security is this going to cost me?” when an opportunity to help someone else and share Jesus with them arrives. Opportunities to serve God are everywhere, and I let so many pass me by in exchange for my own comfort and convenience. I am afraid that if I make certain commitments when it comes to serving God that I won’t have enough room for the things I enjoy. I can’t give away my money, time, and effort. I need it all for me and my family! Like Katy, I even use my family as an excuse not to serve Him, whether it’s skipping church because my kids were up late the night before or avoiding interacting with certain types of people because I don’t want to have to face the questions my daughter will ask about them afterwards. It’s all too easy to pretend there aren’t homeless people pushing shopping carts a few blocks away from my home if I just take my kids to the park in the opposite direction!

God must have known how easy it is for us humans to fall into a pattern of fearful living because he addresses fear in plenty of Bible verses. Here’s a good one I’m going to carry with me as I work on trusting God to be with me as I live my faith courageously:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

Am I the only one who regularly allows my fear of discomfort and inconvenience to get in the way of doing God's work? If you have had similar thoughts, please share! What, if anything, helps you overcome your fear?

AmberSignature