A few days before my mother-in-law Janice died last September I took the kids for a hike a Spring Creek Prairie. It was about the last thing I’d wanted to do. Brad was in Minnesota, and I’d spent the last few days waiting for the phone to ring. I was tired. I was overwhelmed and despairing. And I was sad. At that point we knew that all potential cures, even the life-extending treatments – the chemotherapy, the surgeries, the clinical trials – had been exhausted. All hope was gone. All that was left was the interminable waiting.
I remember trailing behind the kids as they dashed ahead of me through the waving grass, my limbs aching and heavy, tears welling behind my sunglasses. I could see Rowan’s red head bobbing amongst the wildflowers. I could hear their shrieks of delight as they called for me to look at the monarch caterpillar clinging to the milkweed, the soldier beetles heavy with pollen, the emerald grasshopper. The kids had momentarily forgotten about their grandmother’s dying, but I was unable to let it go.
I didn’t think I’d find any relief out on that prairie. I didn’t think I’d find any hope amidst such keen grief. But I was wrong.
We stayed much longer than we should have that evening, long enough that the crickets had begun their dusk serenade by the time we made our way back to the car. The three of us were quiet, subdued by the long walk and the lingering autumn heat.
I drove the long way home over the dirt road leading back into town, and as the van rumbled over gravel, we left a trail of dust hanging like a shroud in the twilight. When I turned right to head west, the three of us gasped out loud.
The entire sky in front of us from prairie grass to the horizon was scarlet red. Never had I witnessed a sunset as brilliant and vibrant and awesome as the one we saw that night [this photo in no way does justice to that scene, but it’s all I could capture with my lousy camera that night!].
I thought of that evening at Spring Creek Prairie and that drive toward the sunset in church this morning, when we read the story of the disciples’ walk to Emmaus. As they walked that long road, heavy-hearted, weary and hopeless, they hadn’t expected to find joy again. Their eyes were closed to the possibility. It wasn’t until later, when the resurrected Jesus sat with them at supper and broke bread, that they realized he was risen – and that he’d been with them all along:
“And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.” (Luke 24:31)
When I read this verse, I recognized that this is exactly the way faith works for me, at least right now: an ebb and flow, a recognition followed by a vanishing. At times I falter. I walk with a heavy step, wondering when – if – I will see God again; wondering if indeed I’ve ever seen him at all. And then, often when I least expect it and when I am least prepared, he shines brightly like the sweep of a lighthouse spotlight before vanishing again.
The good news is that the further I walk along this faith journey, the less I panic and doubt during those times when God isn’t as obviously present as I might like. I know that while he may have temporarily vanished from my sight that he is with me nonetheless. And I know he will reappear in all his glory again…and probably when I least expect it.
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