Walking to the bus stop after my first Cyber Monday working in a national retail call center, I was musing on my journey with the Lord the last several years. I was thinking about how much harder it has been than I expected, yet, also more beautiful and illuminating. I was thinking how recently I’ve been hesitant to offer any new things to the Lord because I’m frightened. The last many years have brought me farther than I could have ever imagined in a relatively short amount of time.
It has involved a more pain and loss than I ever anticipated and right now I do feel like I don’t want the pain of too much more change for a bit yet. I don’t want to stop and settle, but this walking out journey has left me looking and feeling far more foolish than I ever expected or wanted.
It’s dark in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the end of November past eight o’clock at night. Some friends say they don’t want me walking in the dark and the cold. I smile and enjoy the love. But we both know this is simply part of my life right now. I ride the bus and I walk in the dark, in the cold, in the day, in the heat. It’s all okay. It isn’t what I want, but it is where I am and I’m walking it out. Literally.
As I’m walking up the side street to the bus stop I’m bothered that there is a tow truck with a vehicle loaded on the normally empty street that I use. I feel irritated at the jumble of voices from the customer and the tow truck driver. It’s an indication of the fatigue I’m feeling from the events of the last several days and the increase in calls at work. As I’m almost to the bus stop I’m thinking about how the last few years have helped me relate to a lot of people in the bible I previously judged or simply couldn’t relate to.
For example, I always loved reading about Elijah but never could understand how he seemed to collapse in I Kings 19 after this huge victory over the false prophets. For three and a half years he walked out the word he had given for there to be no rain in the land, then there is this epic show down in I Kings 18 where he completely annihilates the prophets of Baal. But then, in chapter 19 he’s asking God to let him die. I never got it til I went through several years of feeling like I was fighting for my survival, for my freedom, for my life in many ways and when things actually started to come together more, started to calm down more I was breaking down. I was exhausted from years of pushing and praying for my most basic sustenance and my friends struggled to understand how I had exhibited faith through the adversity, then when I got a permanent job I was a bawling, sobbing mess. And while I haven’t gone head to head with hundreds upon hundreds of false prophets in hand to hand combat, I do glimpse a taste of understanding of Elijah’s fatigue. Now, I can look at Elijah and say, Ahh-ha. Okay, I get it some.
I am relieved to get to the bus stop, but almost as soon as I sit down, I realize I’m too late. It’s 8:26 p.m. and I remember that the bus hits this stop earlier than that. Sure enough, as I’m putting it together, I see the bus lumbering up the road across the street from me, the side where there are no stops and I accept that I’ve missed it without the anger or frustration that I often feel at missing the bus.
There will be another bus in approximately thirty minutes, but I realize, tonight, I don’t want to sit here and wait for the bus. I turn to my left and look up ahead to the road that leads home. I contemplate walking under the overpass without lights under it. I weight the cost. I gauge my peace abut walking that stretch of darkness.
Tonight it seems as if the headlights of the cars are lighting up the unlit parts. Even though I know that’s not actually true, it feels like a harbinger of peace and safety to walk under the overpass.
Yes, tonight I’d rather walk home, than sit and wait. I feel an eagerness set in as I make my decision, but even as I stand, my knee feels not right, wobbly, and hurting and lacking strength. I pause for a millisecond. No. I decide my knee will loosen up, strengthen up as I walk. I choose to move rather than sit and rest.
I begin putting my earbuds in as I cross a small side street. Suddenly headlights are upon me from out of nowhere it seems as a crossover SUV is swinging speedily towards me. In what later seems like an odd instinctual move, I put my right arm out as if I am going to single-handedly stop a several thousand pound vehicle from hitting me. Just as fast as it happened, it’s over and we’re clear of each other and I don’t know how exactly. I wonder if they were as startled as me. I wonder if an angel spun the car around me. As I get up on the curb a surge of adrenaline pours into my system. But not too big a surge. I’m often praying nonstop on my journeys crossing streets and on this side street with less lights and less traffic I was paying less attention, so now, I come to myself and determine this is simply a reminder to pray my way home on the not-so-mean streets of northeast Albuquerque.
I resume putting my earbuds in and finding the music app on my phone, but I’m hearing voices somewhere on the night air and I can’t determine where they’re coming from, but I stop trying to discern as I cannot see anyone or anything around me under the checkered light of the streetlamps. I put the second earbud in and trudge forward. In the mixture of streetlights and night darkness I begin to see figures moving toward me. Several figures walking together coming my way. Who are they? Are they safe? Are they not safe? Do they have evil intentions in mind? How many of them are there? I begin praying silently as I so often do. “In the name of Jesus, get away from me, get away in the name of Jesus.”
I’m not saying it’s an elegant prayer or a spiritually mature prayer. It’s where I am when I’m just trying to get to or from work, to or from the grocery store and I am tired of being hassled by panhandlers. It’s a prayer I’ve prayed when bums try to solicit me at bus stops. Or people I suspect to be panhandlers are headed my way and I don’t feel like going through the routine again. It starts with some question, but they don’t really want the answer to whatever they ask you, they just want to get you engaged in conversation so they can ask you for money, or a bus pass, or a cigarette. I’ve been around them too much. I’ve seen them forget that they asked me for a dollar to buy a bus pass and five minutes later offer to sell me a bus pass. I’ve seen them with their arms full of snacks I can’t afford from the gas station and I admit to becoming somewhat hardened toward them. Albuquerque has a lot of homeless people panhandling at every intersection, at every median at some intersections. And on occasion I have even given the odd dollar or what not.
“In the name of Jesus get away from me.” It’s also been a surprisingly effective prayer. I can’t tell you the number of people I have watched make a wide berth around me, cross the street or even turn around. Not all the time, but enough that I feel comfort and safety even in this seemingly fearful sounding prayer.
As we get closer I realize this is a family of sorts. There is a young child pushing an empty stroller and either a young mother or older sibling carrying a baby. Okay, not so much a gang of thugs. Still, I’m tired and apprehensive and untrusting, so even as we are passing by each other, in my head, I’m still saying, “Stay away from me in the name of Jesus.” Hey, who knows what craziness a group of young-somethings might do…
I’m almost to the crosswalk to go under the overpass when I see that there are three orange barrels set at an angle across the sidewalk with tape strung between them. A clear indication to not proceed on the sidewalk. It will be no issue to get around the barrels, but now I am seriously questioning my decision to walk home. First the wonky knee, then the SUV almost hit me, then, well, okay, that really did seem like a family on their way and not some villainous gang of ne’er-do-wells….but …. now …. barrels blocking the sidewalk? Have I made a wrong decision, Lord? Did I get it wrong?
I felt somewhat proud of myself for opting to walk home, facing the fright of crosswalks and the dark parts under the bridge, particularly when I feel so very weary. It’s been such a crazy day that began with someone attempting to hack my PayPal account. Was I wrong? Did I misunderstand? Maybe I’m just being reckless and foolish and calling it confidence and godliness when it’s not.
I turn to go back to the bus stop and I’m overcome with an overwhelming sensation of DEFEAT and DESPAIR. No, I cannot bear the thought of going BACK. I turn to go forward. Again, I’m confronted by the barrels blocking my way and I don’t know what to do. I am literally standing on the side of the road afraid to go forward, too defeated to go back. My emotions and senses have no clear peaceable answer for me. I turn again to go back and begin to literally sob at the defeat I feel. I stop. Okay Lord, I don’t want to move in disobedience and say it’s you, but I’d rather move forward AFRAID than sit in despair. It’s not the first time the sidewalk has been closed and in other scenarios I knew I had to press on regardless.
So, I move forward walking and talking to the Lord, praying and feeling my joints stiff and awkward and unwieldy and a certain level of pain in every step, but what else is there to do? Each crosswalk, each street I have to cross, I say to God, If you don’t help me, I’ll never make it. If you don’t force the drivers to see me and stop them, I’ll never survive the walk home. But so much of the past few years this has been the learning. The learning that I can never survive this life if God is not fighting for me. So much the learning has been that in myself I am utterly weak and incapable, but that when in my weakness, I turn to Jesus, I discover his strength and his enabling power in grace to make me sufficient when I am so completely not sufficient.
And so much of the time, there is pain in every step of the way it seems. There is so much more fright and suspicion and concern than I wish I felt. I wish I could walk across the street without praying and feel confident that a car might not swing out of nowhere to bear down on me. I don’t mean that I live in fear, but I mean I feel more fear than I wish I did. But the thing I learn is that as I bear forward in pain and discomfort and fright and not feeling the peace and pleasantness that I want to feel, overall in the journey, I DO have MORE strength, I DO have MORE PEACE. I experience more strength and more peace than I have EVER known in my life, but I daily face more discomfort and weakness than I ever knew. I think that’s what is called a paradox. Or a dichotomy. Something.
I don’t think that the weakness wasn’t there before. I don’t think I would allow God to take me to the places that exposed the reality of my weakness. I think I refused to face its reality. I couldn’t bear to accept the vastness of my need for God in everything.
I come to my final crosswalk before I reach home. It seems ironically fitting that a turning car waits for me to cross and behind it is the bus I would have caught had I stayed. This bus is delayed because I am crossing the street. And I feel a bit better that I have gained a little bit of time in getting to my destination versus waiting, but I know truly tonight’s journey home wasn’t about time gained or lost in waiting for the bus or not.
No, I know tonight the journey home was all about the time spent with God. It was all about the relationship. It was all about holding his hand and trusting him to save me, where I have never been strong enough to save myself. It was all about knowing that knowing him doesn’t automatically erase the pain and the fright, the trouble and the struggle, but that knowing him makes it more than bearable, that even in the hard places there is beauty found in his presence, in his companionship. Knowing that sometimes the path seems blocked, the way seems uncertain and fraught with peril, but all those things don’t mean God isn’t still in the thick of it all with me.
Knowing that as much as I want to avoid pain, I will still seek his presence in pain, over sitting without him in despair. So, I do hope that the next parts of the journey have less pain, but even if they don’t, I feel confident, that I won’t stop even in weariness to rest when I should be going forward.