It's time, and I'm no more ready to go into the wilderness than I was the day my lungs felt like they'd explode. Days of migraine, only to segue into a bout of tummy trouble that singled out Abbie, Nia Grace, and guess who? And what does Jesus say? At 3 AM, no less!
And so I go, feeling so alone.
It isn't much to look at, the desert. Miles and miles of a whole lotta nothin'. It's colder than you'd think a desert would be. A few skeletons litter the landscape, of some poor souls who didn't make it out. If the look as if they simply gave up the ghost, and withered to bone where they lay. But their numbers are few.
"I sure don't wanna end up like that," I think. "God, it's cold. I always thought of deserts as being hot. Mine is cold, and dark. I don't like it."
The shadowy figure coming my way is the devil. He's going to tempt me. With what, power? I'm not much for wanting power. Significance? Yeah. I should see that coming. What else?
"You want to be loved," A voice says. It isn't the devil.
And there I am, on that mattress again, in that empty house. And the devil coming toward me looks like Joe.
Jesus beats him to me. He stands behind me, and puts his arm around my shoulder. It comforts me. And there they are: one man in front of me, and the God/Man behind me.
Joe doesn't say a word. He turns and walks away. Of course, he doesn't have to say anything. Hasn't he disappeared without a word three times? And that saying nothing, says everything.
"What does it say?" the Lord asks.
"I don't want you."
"How do you feel?"
"A little sad, but..."
"Not so much. I mean, I thought this was going to be horrible, but all I feel is a little sting, what you'd feel if you were embarrassed. It isn't so bad."
"That's my girl. Are you angry at him?"
"Nah. I mean, look at him. He's a kid, just like I was. A little arrogant. Really cute. Kinda lost. Everybody has the right to find their own way. Maybe he just didn't know how to be forthcoming. It isn't everybody's strong suit."
"What about the Joe who was 42 when he hurt you?"
"He had to find his way, too. I made my own huge mistakes. I wasn't a child. I was 40. We survived."
"Yes, you did," Jesus says. "Do you forgive him?"
"Yeah. I do. But it still stings."
"That's okay. You're doing the work."
I don't expect it, but my parents come next. And they too stand before me, only to walk away without a word. It more than stings. I feel sick to my stomach, and it ain't the tummy bug.
"I don't want to do this anymore, Lord."
"It's important, little one. I want you to tell me what their silence says."
"It says, 'I don't want you.'"
"That's the same thing Joe's silence said. Think about that."
"It's okay. I'm right here, and I haven't even moved my hand from your shoulder."
"I thought the big wound was Joe's, but it isn't, is it?"
"I forgave my parents. They told me that loved me. They said they did want me. Daddy was a heroin addict. Mama had seven other children, and that was before she had the last baby. Mama said she didn't have any fight in her. How could she refuse her own mother, and her beloved aunt? People she couldn't say no to told her I was better off where I was. What could my parents do?"
"Do you believe them?"
"Do you believe they wanted you, love?"
"No. They were supposed to fight for me, but they let me down. They were suppose to come for me. I missed them. I loved them, and I was too young to fight. I was fifteen months old, but I knew them. I loved them!"
My complaint pricks my heart. I failed my own son, in the exact same way, even though I loved him. I didn't know how to fight for him.
"Damn." I hang my head in shame.
Now Jesus stands in front of me. He inclines Himself before me and whispers. "Let's keep going. You don't want to get stuck there. Not now." He lifts my chin with His strong, carpenter hand, His "hand of God." But He's gentle with me, so very kind. "If you don't believe your own parents wanted you, don't you think you'd have a little trouble trusting in anyone's love?"
I blink, but don't say a thing.
"Do you believe I love you?"
"Yes," I answer too quickly.
"Do you believe I love you?"
"Most of the time?"
"I said yes."
"Do you believe I love you?"
"Some of the time. I couldn't keep doing any of this without Your love. Lord, I can't live without Your love. You're all I've got. You're it."
"Then why do you work so hard to please me, when I'd be content just sitting with you in silence? You try to win my love as if you don't already have it. Little one, you avoided your parents later on in your life because you didn't feel capable of pleasing them. You felt rejected, again and again, whether you were or not. And you've sought Joe's attention because you don't want anyone to make you feel the way your parents did, again. You're trying to undue what they did by gaining his approval. You have his approval, and you know it."
"He can't heal you."
"You can't undue what was done."
"You're right. You're God, and You're supposed to be right, and..." I ramble, until I just shut up.
He smiles at me. I love His smile. "You have so much love. Open your eyes to it."
I'm mute. I have no idea how to do that.
"What have I asked you to do lately?" Jesus says. "The two things I tried to talk to you about again and again. But you avoided me."
"You said come to the silence. And you said you wanted me to stay a child, but grow up."
"Do you know what I mean?"
"You want me to come to You and do nothing. And You want me to be happy, free, and trusting like a child, but You also want me to let go of the lies that keep me clamoring for love in ways that dishonor me. And to act like I've got the good sense you've given me."
"It's a beginning."
"You don't despise, beginnings, do you Lord?"
"You know I don't."
I blink and the desert fills with angels. They don't look heavenly creatures. They look like Evette, and Erin, and Elysa, and Kristine, and Lisa. They look like Gina and Mystele, and Rhonda, and the other Mair. They look like Heidi, and Jen, and Terry, and Chip, Joni, and my Godbabies. I see my mother-in-law, and dozens of people I've worshipped with. There are so many angels crowding the desert, ministering to me like angels did Jesus in His desert. They are giving me strength.
Right there, are my children and husband. There are a lot of people I don't even know, waving my books in their hands. Some are saying, "Me, too." And I see Joe. And Mama, and Daddy. All these angels in their own way, for better or worse, are showing me something about love.
We are frail. We make awful mistakes. We sin, big time. Sometimes we don't know how to love. Sometimes we don't know how to be loved. People fail us, but we forgive them. Again and again. We are forgiven by them. Again and again.
We are healing, if we wish to be. If we'll go to the silence and let God love on us. None of us are quite whole, at least not those I see in this desert. We are healing.
And then my angels all disappear, and there's no one left, but me and Jesus.
"Now how do you feel?" He asks.
"Like You did in the desert after you confronted the devil. I'm really, really hungry. I'm famished!"
"It's a kind of hunger only I can fill. Do you trust Me?"
I pause. I want my answer to be true."Pretty much."
"We've still got a ways to go."
"It's okay, as long as You're with me," I say, and it is.
Together Jesus and I walk away from that place, my stomach growling as we depart. See, I'm still hungry, but my hand, empty before, a cup waiting for Him to fill, rests firmly in His.
I'm healing, a day at a time.
He's got me.
desert by night photo by serge anton