Lean in

Mountain Bike RideLungs on fire. Breath in ragged gasps. My frantic ascent through brush and over jagged rocks.
A glance behind. Desert sun burns against cloudless blue. Lazy dust drifts over the canyon rim. Horrible death, two feet left and a hundred feet down.

I’m in heaven. Or close to it. Sunday mountain bike rides take me miles into rocky untamed hills. My favorite trail is like a staircase. Boulders jut from rugged switchbacks that carve perilously up the sides of a canyon. For one of the most important lessons of my life, God pointed here.

When he spoke, I wasn’t in the sunshine or out in glorious nature. I was huddled in a blanket on my patio. Darkness poured over the eastern mountains. It washed the blue from the sky. A fading line of crimson and gold was all that was left of the dying day.

It mirrored my heart. A dying light. Me slowly drowning. A sea of black loneliness. Bitter. Ravenous. Unrelenting.

“Lean in.”

Lean in? Papa, what does that mean? Really. In the depths of crushing tragedy, I need more than catchy phrases and platitudes. A God who cannot answer is no god at all. I ask and suddenly understand…

When bad things happen, or when I’m in pain, my first cry toward heaven is, “make it stop.”

Yet, even when everything is good, we’re still plagued with gnawing emptiness. I never noticed mine until I tried to drive with the radio off, not watch TV, or drive behind the slow guy. Busyness and noise help drown that horrible knowing. Anger makes us feel powerful enough to conquer it. But it still echoes in our silence. It says, “you were born to fly. You’re living on the ground.”

If I’m busier I’ll get airborne. If I make more money. If I’m loved or respected more. If I laugh more or feel better. If people weren’t so irritating. That ache is the reason we drink too much, eat too much, work too much, lose our tempers too much, wish our lives were different. Each time I pointed to something that needed to change, Papa shook his head and pointed to the rocky hillside.

The first time I rode up that hill I stopped at least thirty times. Sometimes the trail was so hard I had to walk the bicycle. Sometimes I collapsed under a shrub to catch my breath. Week after week I rode the trail until I could do it bottom to top without stopping or stepping off. It’s my favorite trail. The trail didn’t get easier. I got better.

God wants to do the same thing in my life (and yours). Instead of taking the problems away, he wants to grow me. Soon the very things that used to break me, become what I do for fun.

We don’t suffer for suffering’s sake. God is setting us free. His specialty is taking the worst thing and making it into the best thing.  Your marriage. Your Job. Your health. Your family. Your sadness.

Your solution isn’t a what, it’s a who: Papa. Put everything into a search for him … and you end up with the what as well.

Over christmas, a horrible aching churned in the pit of my stomach. I was homesick. But there was no “home” for me to return to. The building was there, but the light was gone. Sun had set. The love and laughter that held my heart was extinguished. Forever.

Vertigo. Ground yanked from beneath my feet. I’m floundering. Falling. “Papa. Help. How am I supposed to handle this?”

He said, “you’re not falling. That’s what it feels like to fly.”

Suddenly I realized I want this. I want this more than anything. Destiny. So now when it hurts so bad I can hardly breathe; when I’m lost, disoriented, and disillusioned; when the ground is pulled from underneath my feet, I know what he’s doing. I know I’m safe. I still pray, “Lord have mercy.” But I have a new prayer…