Like Jacob

Where I’m from, the grass is yellow and the land is flat enough to see straight to the edge of the horizon. I like seeing straight. It makes the sky bigger. It makes sunsets thicker. But I am no longer home. Last week I moved from Texas to Syracuse, New York—alone. I am living in a city more than four times the size of my home. I am 2,000 miles away from the people who love me most, who know me best. There are trees and hills that keep getting in the way of seeing the sky. I have lived here four days. I have 1,091 more to go.

In the book of Joshua when God said to be strong and courageous, God repeated himself (I think it was because Joshua was no different than us—hard of hearing and afraid). He said: Be strong and VERY courageous. I think I’m learning what that word, very, means.

I keep asking myself, “What are my fears?” That question keeps bringing me back to Africa, where I walked through streets in Nairobi, Kenya, crowded with children who were barefoot, hungry, high from sniffing gasoline and dying of AIDS. Thousands of them were stretching out their hands to me, begging for something good. There were too many to help. I keep thinking, “Is that life? Is suffering too big to be defeated?” My fear is that the answer is yes.

My prayers since then have been bleak, nothing more than meager attempts to ask for hope. I keep thinking how Jacob wrestled the angel, how long they struggled on the ground; how the angel allowed him to keep kicking and rolling even though Jacob would never win. I think how he held on until the angel struck his hip and maybe that was all Jacob wanted—just to limp so he couldn’t run away anymore. In the book of Hebrews, when the writer lists the great people of faith, Jacob is among them. That scripture says when he was dying he leaned on his staff and worshipped. I keep imagining him, a staff under his arm, struggling to stand, struggling to find the faith to worship the God who gave him his limp.

So I’ve admitted I’m a doubter, a wrestler. Like Jacob, I’ve been thrown alone into a place where I can’t see so far ahead, where faith is something I’m reaching for every morning—a girl fumbling in the dark to find her glasses. Sometimes I think how Jesus only asked us to have the faith of a mustard seed. And maybe I have that kind of faith, the kind that is small enough to keep me holding on to a God who knows me, who allows me to kick until I’m tired, until I’m wounded, until I’m still.

Tonight I went to a movie by myself for the first time. I’ve always wanted to be brave enough to do that. Figuring I could either sit alone in my apartment or sit alone in the theater, I saw Signs. It’s about a doubter who suffers and challenges God. And it’s about a God who is not intimidated by the doubter’s lack of faith, a God who proves Himself good. I walked out of the theater alone, through a crowded mall of people who didn’t notice me, who spoke to each other with New York accents and ate fast food and carried bags of new clothes. When I stepped outside and climbed into my car, I cried all the way to the highway, where I took a wrong exit and found myself in a neighborhood I’d never seen.

It was then, in the dark, unfolding my map in the parking lot of some convenience store in a city filled with trees and hills and street names I didn’t know, I said, “Jesus, it looks like you and I are lost. We’ve got to find our way back.” That’s when I realized Jesus was not lost. He was not new to this town. I was.

And I had one of those moments of epiphany, where I realized that Jesus was here long before I showed up with a car full of my stuff. Jesus is not surprised by my questions. He’s heard them before. He is not surprised by the pain in this world. He has known it always. And He won His fight with it, struck it in the hip.

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I’m learning here in this broken world where it all feels too frightening, where we wrestle like Jacob just to hang on to God, that if we are brave enough to fold our fists around the tiny bit of faith we can find, if we can face up to those moments when God calls us to know the very in “very courageous,” we will be like Joshua. We will see those miracles when God stills the sun in the sky, when He splits open rivers so we can walk across dry ground, when He shatters walls with the sounds of our battered and off-key trumpets.

We will be like Jacob: struck by the hand of God. Every time we limp we will remember that we never struggled alone. Perhaps, after the battle, we will stand together, leaning on our crutches. And we will worship.

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