Up until just a few years ago, my grandpa would annually travel to Page, Arizona sometime in the month of November to bring gifts and clothing to the Navajo Indians.
This was a ministry that he had been a part of since my mom was in high school, and it was one that he would include his whole family in as often as he could.
When I was about 7 years old, we stuffed my grandpa’s motorhome full of our family and made the journey. On our way back, we stopped by the Grand Canyon so that all of us small ones could experience its grandeur for the first time. It was sometime in late November, so the landscape was splotched with leftover snow, and the bitter cold wind ripped through the canyon like it was trying to widen its edges.
Little seven year old Ali inched forward toward the edge to peak into the enormous expanse, knowing full well that this place was dangerous, but incredible.
My dad was right behind me (though I didn’t know), making sure that I wasn’t too much of an idiot in how close I got to actual danger.
While I slowly scooched forward, a major gust of wind kicked up and hit me hard, making me feel as though I had lost control of the situation, which obviously meant that I was going to be whipped into the Grand Canyon and plummet to my death (even though I was definitely a good 8 feet away from the actual edge).
I shrieked, and my dad caught my arm to steady me. In an instant, my heart went from believing that I would die a tragic November death to instant security that my dad gave me.
Fast forward to present day.
Being appropriately transparent (as there is much that my heart cannot share), the last month of my life has been one of the most difficult I’ve lived through.
In a span of just mere weeks, my world flipped upside down, shifting from a time of awesome blessing and ease to some of the most challenging days I’ve ever experienced.
God is sensational, and sometimes He’ll prepare your heart for the storms that you will face right before you step into them. He absolutely doesn’t have to do this, but in this case of my life, He did.
About six weeks ago, He began reminding me of what following Him looks like. Following Jesus does give you the security of knowing where you’ll go when you die, knowing that He is faithful at all times, and that He loves you recklessly no matter what you do. But following Jesus is not safe. It gives no guarantees for monetary blessing, or constant good health, or that the sun will shine on you every single day of your life.
In fact, let me remind you that Jesus and His disciples didn’t even have the luxury of knowing where they would sleep every night (Luke 9:58). Jesus didn’t have a month long meal plan ready to go; sometimes He would look at the disciples and tell them to handle feeding not only the 13 of them, but also about 10,000 people… and this would happen in the most inconvenient places at the most ridiculous of times.
What am I getting at?
Even Jesus had it “rough” from time to time (as seen by the world)… so why would following Him promise to look substantially different?
So, six weeks ago, He began speaking in about what following Him looks like… how He’s not safe, but He’s good… how there are no guarantees to what the world would deem as happiness in following Him, but there is security in knowing He loves you, that you can trust Him, that He is faithful, and that He’ll be your protector, refuge and strength when the skies begin to get stormy, and that security bring joy.
And my little self, being so blissfully ignorant, sighed contentedly and said “Oh yes Jesus, I know. I trust You. Everything will be fine, I know… because You love me.”
Then He pointed to a little tiny cloud on the horizon of my life and said, “Do you trust Me?”
The tiny cloud is of course not a threat. The tiny cloud can be created into a game… and is by no means something to fret about.
But sometimes, tiny clouds grow. As the storm builds, that small, insignificant cloud that you imagined looked like a turtle or a dog or a butterfly turns into more of a nightmare.
Sometimes, that tiny cloud grows much faster than you expect it to, and within a matter of what seems like seconds, you are staring into the face of hurricane Katrina.
So I nodded, not knowing that the cloud would grow. And He nodded, promising to be faithful if the cloud did grow.
And boy, did it grow.
Within the span of a month, I went into preterm labor at 30 weeks pregnant, I have had to do battle against disgusting and slanderous rumors that have been pointed at my little family, I have learned that we have to move yet again and in a tight span of time (all while 8 months pregnant and on the doctor’s order to try to take it easy and not put myself in stressful situations), and have watched Satan take advantage of a small crevice of unknown weakness in our lives and crash through with total devastation.
The storm turned into a full on raging hurricane, and I was in the boat rowing, trying to make headway, trying to get through, trying trying trying… and crying all the while (because I am pregnant, after all). It was and is certainly more than I can handle. Heartbreak, struggle and hardship crashes into you at the worst of moments, and this moment was no different.
In my sobbing and desperate prayers, Jesus whispered, “Look where you are, dearest heart.”
The boat wasn’t near. In fact, in all of my past singing and praising of “Take me deeper! Teach me to trust You more! Show me Your faithfulness! Give me a bigger picture of who You are!” I had stepped out of the boat, and skipped toward Jesus all while the tiny cloud was tiny… but again, that changed with the snap of a finger.
The waves are huge, the wind a force that I have never seen in all of its boldness and terror inflicting rage, the rain so thick you cannot see three feet in front of you… but I’m out here in the mess of it.
And I hate it.
I would love to say that I am so far into my relationship with Jesus that I paused in the most holy of ways and said, “Ah yes Lord, I see where I am. Ah yes Lord, this will be good. Ah yes Lord, the storm is no thing at all to fear… robble robble robble.”
I wish I could even say that I stood tall and focused fully on Him, doing all that I could to swallow my fear of being swallowed whole by the angry ocean.
Instead, I cried, and I sank. Instead, I wept bitterly and begged to know why… why now, why this, why at all.
Instead, I clawed for Jesus’ hand as I slipped into the raging waves, begging Him to get me out… to get me back to the boat… to make the storm stop.
And while He held on tight, the storm screamed on. Like my dad did that day alongside the Grand Canyon, Jesus has grabbed my arm to reassure me that He is present in this situation out on the water in the middle of the horror.
See, Jesus doesn’t stop the storm when it would make you feel better. It would have been much easier to have a conversation with Jesus about all of this if He had just quieted everything down. It would have felt better if He had just been a little more sympathetic to my fears of the storm.
But Jesus has more in mind than my dependence on security, and He certainly has a bigger story planned out than making me feel better.
He’s out to show me that He is God.
He’s out to stretch me in my trusting of Him… do I trust Him? Do I believe that He has my best interest in mind?
He’s in this not to make me see that I have faith to walk on water, but to prove that He is faithful when everything becomes so overwhelming that I can’t even row my boat to where He’s asked me to go, let alone walk to Him completely on the waves.
He’s in this to walk me back to the boat in the midst of the rage and the uncertainty, to care for my heart, to show how much He loves me and cares for me when it feels like no one else can.
He leads me tenderly and gently, even when the water is still picking a fight with my feet.
He hears my crying and answers me, even if the wind still sounds like the screeches of a demon.
He is the warrior that the storm cannot inflict fear into, for He is the might, the rage and the intensity of the storm. Just look at Psalm 18… The Lord is the storm.
I don’t know what He’s doing. All I know is I’ve seen Him… I’m feeling Him move. All I know is that we’re in a war, and the opposing side will do anything to destroy what it can for harm and fear’s sake. All I know is that these sorts of battles are won in worship, in prayer, and in faithfulness (2 Chron 20:14-23). All I know is that there is no promise that this is over, or that it won’t get worse, but that God is good and He loves me all the time.
The storm? Yeah I’m still very much in it.
Yeah, it’s still scary.
Yeah, I still have no answers to any of the unknowns.
But I’m coming to terms with the fact that Jesus has no intentions of letting me be swallowed up by the storm… only the fullest and purest intention of showing me just how awesome He is and how much He loves me… because it was only after Jesus and Peter climbed back into the boat that the disciples fully understood who they were following, and I expect the same thing will happen to me.