She stands tall in the open spaces as the light pours out around her. She is brave in the waiting. She is fierce in hoping. In elegance and grace, though she is shaken by the deep rustle of the leaves, she is determined. The lurking shadows are only visible because of the dazzling light.
She is the lady in waiting. For what does she wait? For what does she hope? For the unfulfilled and the absent things of life. For the longings felt on every exhale, for the whispered prayers that roar into the open spaces. She is brave in the waiting. She dares to dream in the empty spaces that surround her.
I remember it clearly, like it was yesterday-- as the saying goes, but it was long ago and it was just yesterday. Maybe you’ll understand it this way. When you are scared, overwhelmed, uncertain, lost, or confused, feelings have a way of transporting you through time and space to a specific scene. That place for me, I will dare to write. Keep reading.
I’m twenty one, freshly graduated from college. Any plans I had for with my life had turned into a blinding fog. I knew less with certainty than I ever had. I’m sure it was untrue, but it felt that all my friends had at least the next step arranged, marriage, internships, apartments. There I was at the conclusion of three and a half amazing years about to be thrust into the world. With a degree in hand, I felt like a young chick nudged out of the nest, not knowing if I could even fly. All around me, the people who had become my family were parting with tearful and dazed goodbyes in a mix of excitement and terror.
After prolonging the inevitable, when job interviews didn’t pan out and the extended celebratory trips and travels for weddings ceased, I finally returned to the place that was once my home. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to more than anything in the world. I returned to this foreign and familiar place where remnants of my life lingered in the broken fragments of my own family. It stopped being home the day I left for college. It was definitely no longer home after the divorce. I suppose I’ve been searching for home since then. Everyone was just trying to survive, adhering their oxygen mask first. The safety net was severed and more like the ruins of a war-torn land. I was a refugee that fled before the worst only to return in the end, to what. It was desperate and bleak. Could nothing else have worked? Could those job interviews have lead me elsewhere? Could I become a nanny in a foreign country to a wealthy ex-pat family? I tried. Anything would have been better than moving back and getting another job at a restaurant. Surely, this was not my life, the one full of dreams and ambition. Where were the beautiful possibilities in which I believed? Where could I safely land?
It was a vast and paralyzing feeling, one that I wouldn’t actually be able to put into words until just last year when Matt and I watched the psychologically torturing film experiment that you may know as Gravity. Yes, the one with Sandra Bullock. He thought it was a pretty cool movie. I held a blanket close, to feel it wrapped around my body. I tried to remember to breathe. I did not move once during the entire film.
You know those scenes were she is spinning hopelessly and frantically out of control through space? Actually untethered and moving alone in the great, endless universe. There is no safety net. No one is coming to save her. Well, dear God, that will unravel even this free spirit. Matt thought I was a little dramatic when I said I wasn’t sure I’d be able to sleep that night. As it turns out, I may have an irrational fear of free falling through space.
And maybe it’s not the actual space beyond this planet, I don’t have plans to board a rocket any day soon, much to the disappointment of my six-year-old son. That movie is the best way I know to describe those immediate days after college, I’m Sandra Bullock and gravity can’t save me.
Maybe you’re looking at me differently right about now, maybe you’re sending a therapist friend, but wait. Maybe you’re a stranger and I just told you one of my greatest fears. It’s okay, keep reading.
I survived those early months. They were not pretty, but some parts were better than others. I stood in the waiting. Sometimes, I hid under the blankets in waiting, and cried, that’s brave too. And I learned how to thrive in the free fall of life. Are you questioning if I lost my faith, I’m not afraid of your questions. God isn’t either. I don’t think all our days are planned or determined and I don’t know much of theology of such matters. But if life is this wild, dazzling, breath-taking free fall, then God is the tether that will not break. Often, we think He is invisible, but if we are looking, He’s everywhere. He is the creator of the space and the days we live, the giver of our breath. He is not the bad that happens, but the good. He is and will always be. We’re just small players in a mystery beyond our comprehension.
Perhaps the idea of a free fall interferes terribly with your sense of security, but I wonder, aren’t the many forms of security we cling to so utterly false? Life, plans, jobs, money, health, systems. Gone in an instant? C.S. Lewis writes in The Great Divorce that everything we can fathom is smaller than a blade of grass in comparison to the eternity of heaven. Isn’t that so comforting? No job or life or health or system is invincible to an instant of change. So, there’s that.
I think I’ve found peace in the free fall, although the reality still terrifies me (As was evident when I recently watched Interstellar. Space movies must not be my thing.) I’ve learned that jumping is scary and overwhelming, but worth it. That’s what my story has told in these years since college. I took a jump and fell in love and then we dove into a dazzling existence together and began a life. We’ve had a few kids and lived a few places. We’ve followed our hearts and listened to the still small leading. We’ve learned to trust when we cannot see. We’ve dared to dream again and again-- even when all our plans disintegrate, we don’t lose hope, because the beautiful invisible has materialized in countless ways. The most unexpected goodness has cushioned many startling landings.
In my most overwhelming moments, the feelings of 21year old me sneak in, even ten years later. And yet, the life I’ve collected and the course I’ve taken is abundant with his presence, lingering in the unknown. He’s there in the fears and questions. In the victories and defeat. In the smooth times and the mind-numbing frustrations. In the cool winds that brush across my cheek, in the roaring crashing waves, in the gentle silence of a baby sleeping in my arms. He meets me with the brush in my hand, when my fingers hit the keys, in that first deep inhaling of a freshly brewed coffee. He is heavy in the air when voices in unison sing the haunting and healing words of Be Thou My Vision.
If this life is a free fall in an endless world, then he fills and fills and fills every last place.
The lady in waiting stands tall in the howling winds. She waits bravely in the open spaces that surround her, because they are not empty, just unseen.