When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43:2 ESV)
I remember sitting in the hospital next to my Stephen after he had fallen off the cliff while rock climbing with so many questions running through my mind and heart. Just 8 months earlier, it was Stephen sitting beside me in a hospital bed as I was recovering from my second hip replacement. This was supposed to be a summer of recovery, of newness, a time to enjoy the fruits of what we had just endured. Yet I was sitting next to him now, watching him suffer in ways that I could never have imagined, and not knowing what was going to happen next… would he walk normally again, run, climb… what would it look like for us both to have such limitations and physical pain? The words of his doctor after surgery just kept ringing in my ears, “this was a life-changing event… he will heal, but he’ll never be the same. “
It was the Night Watch that pulled me through that first fateful night. It was perhaps one of the darkest nights I have known, those eight or nine hours where Stephen was back in surgery and I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I felt so out of control, so helpless, so blindsided. But those faithful watchers of the night were up all night with me, praying for us, holding my arms up in hope and faith when I felt like I had no strength to stand. And days later, when the waters were very nearly over my head and over Stephen’s, it was from a faithful Night Watch father that these words would come… “the waters will not overwhelm you… you will not sink.” And we knew that even here, especially here, in this deep and dark place, Jesus was with us, and that even if the waves blinded our faith and we started to fall further in like Peter, Jesus would never let us sink.
It has been many years and quite a journey since that season of deep waters in 2005, but I am finding myself once again in those deep, dark, swirly waters and today I was reminded of those sweet words again… “I will not let them drown you… you will not sink.” Suffering is a strange reality. Just like anything, I have found myself to be on a pilgrimage through many different seasons and chapters even as I have walked through life with a chronic illness. But in every season there is an invitation to see Him with more clarity and to trust without borders.
I think I would call this last year Winter of Desolation, although I am not sure any words or title would do it justice. Maybe that sounds too dramatic, but it has felt thus. It has just been a time of the testing of my heart and faith unlike any I have known thus far. I think the bitterness and challenge of it all has been that I keep expecting it to be different. Much like the summer that I mentioned above where we were expecting one thing and ended up with something very different indeed, and even like the weather outside (funny how He shows us His leadership through Creation), I keep expecting Spring and along comes another deep freeze or major storm. With each new doctor’s appointment seems to come an announcement of a new impending storm. And I will be honest, it feels like too much. I don’t know if you have ever experienced the keenness of the the pain that comes with wanting to do anything possible to change something that you are absolutely powerless to change, but it is powerful in its decimation and humiliation. The only real and right response in that place is ‘Jesus is God, and I am not…and so, yes and amen.”
And so today, I find myself standing with my knees (literally) in the raging waters of this river’s edge. I know I have to cross it. I know those waters are going to try to take me under leaving me utterly breathless, and those torrents are going beat me savagely against the rocks. But the only way forward is through. I must go through this. I am going to feel alone and abandoned and maybe even hopeless at times, but He made me a promise, “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” Jesus promised and even more He says, “if it were not so, I would have told you.”
I think of Jesus walking on water through the storms, on top of the waves, even sleeping peacefully at another time through torrents and breakers… He is God after all. And I think of Peter climbing out of the safety of the boat because he just wanted to be with Jesus where He was. And then seeing the waves and realizing the overwhelming-ness of it all, starting to sink. Most people read Jesus’ response as though He was speaking with disapproval or rebuke, but I hear them with love and tenderness… even the smallest faith moves His heart and Peter’s faith, small as it was, was the only one big enough to climb out of the boat onto to the water towards Jesus’ embrace. “Oh Peter, your faith is little, but I am God, and I love you so. And just so you know, I will never let you sink.”
So though my faith be little, probably much smaller than Peter’s, I cannot think of any other response but to keep moving toward the One that I love. Yes and amen, Jesus, even here, even now, even when I don’t understand.
There is a mountain city on the other side of all of this. A place He has gone to prepare for us. A place where pain and tears and questions without answers are all left behind. A place where we will finally see and know as we are seen and known. In my heart of hearts, I see Jesus there and cling to that vision of Him… to hear His voice and see His face in fullness… it is my heart’s deepest desire. And so I must keep moving forward. I must go through and over and under all that He sets before me in the way Home. I have a mountain to climb, a Face to see, a Voice I am longing to hear and Feet I am longing to kiss. And so, my Lord and my King, yes and amen, come what may… it’s all for You. Only for You, Jesus… where else would I go?
“Before we reach the place where such waters must be crossed, there is almost a private word spoken by the Beloved to the lover. That is the word which will be most assaulted as we stand within sight and sound of that seething, roaring flood. The enemy will fasten upon it, twist it about, belittle it, obscure it, try to undermine our confidence in its integrity, and to wreck our tranquility by making us afraid, but this will put him to flight: I believe God that it shall be even as it was told to me.
For “Faith reaches out to what it does not grasp”; it is always saying, “Even now, Even there, Even so.” But I know that ‘even now’ that which is beyond human hope can be. I know that “even there, in the uttermost places, shall Thy hand lead me and Thy right hand shall hold me.” And most tender, most intimate of all, “Even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in Thy sight.” And here, as we know, “Even so” means simply “Yes.” “Yes, Father,” yes to everything, to every challenge of faith, to every mystery. And then, before we are aware, we have crossed the waters and they did not overflow us. And we look up, and away beyond, and high above us, like a finger pointing up into the sky, is the summit of a mountain, the mountain — our hearts tell us so — that is set for us to climb.”
— Quote by Amy Carmichael from Gold by Moonlight