We went to a nearby lake in the mountains the other day. The sun was shining and the air was hot. The water, however, was freezing. The kids were undaunted, jumping in and yelling, laughing, and splashing. I stuck my foot in and when it went numb, decided swimming was not for me.
Toward the end our visit, I said something to my husband about wishing I’d brought my suit. “Oh yeah. That’s why you’re not swimming,” he teased. Always one to take the bait, I immediately ran into the water to my waist and dove under.
The shock of cold was electrifying. I shot up out of the water and could not catch my breath. It’s like I didn’t remember how to inhale. A train sound was rushing through my ears, my arms were leaden, and my lungs refused to work.
I remember so well the complete peace and assurance I had when we were in the process of adoption. I was worried about logistical things like funding and paperwork, but I never doubted that what we were doing was absolutely right. Taking a leap of faith was exhilarating and I had no doubt that God was going to be there to catch us.
Only I expected Him to catch us before we encountered the pain. I didn’t know we’d fall through the thunderstorm, be blown by hurricane-force winds, break the tree tops, get hung up on the branches, scrape our bodies on the bark and twigs, and land in freezing water.
It has been so hard.
It has been so amazing, so incredible, so undeniably worth it, but so very, very hard.
My faith almost did not survive. It certainly doesn’t much resemble what it was. For this, I am beyond grateful. But it hurt in the deconstructing. Everything I thought I knew was challenged. Up was no longer up. Everything was down. Nothing was certain. All was debatable until proven true.
Honestly, it took years before I even had the time or energy to deal with matters of faith or emotion, before I could process any of it. At first, it was simply reacting and responding, trying to keep afloat. There was a film of disappointment over my life that what we were walking through was unmanageable. No matter how many Bible verses I clung to or how many prayers I prayed, I felt immensely alone, completely on our own. It appeared He was not there.
I begged for sleep, but four hours a night was all I was allotted. I begged for answers, and while some came, we were always left with more questions. I craved fellowship and friendship and was rejected for failure to fit the mold. My circumstances were no longer relatable, and in my stress and exhaustion, I could no longer hold the mask of pretense.
I felt a slave to the “supposed to bes” of happily ever after, love conquers all, and the redemption narrative that is the public face of adoption. Our story paled in so many ways.
And where was God in that?
I still went to church (although not nearly as faithfully as pre-adoption). We often sang, “Oceans.” I stood stone silent each and every time, the bile of bitterness at the base of my throat, irritated by the carefree way those around me crooned the lyrics. I wanted to scream a warning, “Don’t you know what you’re signing on for?!? You could be drowning like me!”
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
No way would I ever trust God again with my future or my life. That’s what the experience taught me. God could not be trusted.
I still believed in God. I even believed He was good. But I didn’t believe Him.
Like the freezing water I plunged into at the lake, I felt God had thrown me into the deep end and I couldn’t swim. The shock was too much for me. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move my limbs. No lifeline was thrown.
What I couldn’t see at the time was that slowly, my body adjusted to the temperature and breathing returned to near normal. Although still in deep water, I could now tread it and keep my head above it. Sometimes, I even felt forward motion toward the shore, although often a wave would knock me back. And when I felt I couldn’t go any farther, He taught me how to float.
We sang “Oceans” this morning at church. I sang, too. Softly, at first, but then I realized I meant it. I trust Him. It’s a bit tenuous and I’m still finding my way.
My faith is tender in some ways, but there is depth to it I’m just beginning to explore. I’m a little raw, often reacting when a scab is prodded or pulled. For example, I heard a sermon today in which our pastor said something like, “We can walk through fire and not be singed. Our clothes won’t smell like smoke.” I know the Scripture well to which he was alluding. It was the passage that got me on the plane in Chicago for our international flight to our son.
When the pastor made the statement, tears poured down my face. Because that was not my experience. I know that sometimes we walk through fire and we are burned. We come out charred, in need of surgeries, debridements, and rehabilitation. It is a long, costly, and painful road to healing. However, if we walk through the fire and are burned, we are not consumed. That is the hope I know to be true. That is the hope to which I cling.
I’m still here. Still swimming, often breathless, discouraged, exhausted. But then, some words of encouragement from a fellow swimmer, an unexpected current to ride, or just some extraordinary beauty in an ordinary day will buoy me, and I’m okay.
I don’t know why other people are able to walk through water or even walk on it without waves threatening to engulf them. I don’t know why some walk through fire and emerge without a hint of smoke. That is not my story.
I only know this: He is with me.
In raging waters or scorching flames, He is here.
And there is grace for that.