Sunday, January 12, 2020

What I Can’t See

Wyatt was about six months old that night.  He was mostly asleep, so I carefully carried him into our room, where he slept with us, to put him to bed.  Matt was already asleep because he had an early flight, and as I closed the door behind us, we were enveloped in the pitch dark.  Suddenly Wyatt was awake; his body tensed noticeably, and he tightened his grip on me.  

“What’s wrong?”  I whispered.  He burrowed his face against my neck.  And then I realized: he was afraid of the dark.

I know it’s not a strange thing for a child to be afraid of the dark.  But he was so young, and my heart broke a little for him, holding him close, wondering how he could be afraid.  This was a familiar place to him, even in the dark, a place where we had cuddled him and tickled and played with him, where I’d spent hours nursing him.  No one had taught him this fear; nothing had ever hid in the shadows and jumped out to startle him.  Still, here he was, every muscle in his body tense.  

I knew that if I flicked on the lights, he would be the bold, gregarious baby boy I knew, belly-crawling across the room as fast as he could toward whatever mischief he could find, his deep dimples grooving his chubby cheeks with that impish grin.  But here in the dark, he was full of fear, holding me as tightly as he could.

“It’s okay, buddy, Mommy’s right here.”  I eased him onto the bed and began to nurse him, slowly feeling his body relax.  It struck me that even though no one had taught him this fear, it was present nonetheless.  But in that moment, it dawned on me that we don’t have to experience something jumping out of the dark to be afraid of us.  Darkness terrifies us because we don’t know what’s there.

This probably should have made sense to me sooner.

The summer I turned thirteen, my family visited Jordan and Egypt.  It was an incredibly memorable summer (I’ve written a little about it before on this blog), and one of the amazing things we got to do was snorkeling in the Red Sea at Sharm-El-Sheikh.  My cousins were living in Egypt at the time, and since they had been there before, they served as our tour guides.  I remember the first time we went out, walking carefully across a coral reef.  It was late morning, and the sun beat down from a cloudless sky.  We got to the drop off at the edge of the reef, and my cousin said to put my face in the water and push away.

I did as he said, but when I looked down, I suddenly realized how far the reef went down.  It was clear for at least twenty feet, and you could see further down, too.  But wasn’t the floor of the ocean.  No, in fact, I couldn’t see the floor.  It was like trying to jump off a tall building when you couldn’t see the ground.

I stood up, shaking my head and spitting the snorkel out of my mouth.  “I can’t do this,” I said.  My cousin looked at me with at least a little annoyance, repeated his instructions, and I tried again, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I don’t know how many tries it took, but finally I pushed away from the reef, swimming with my eyes closed.  Then I turned around to look back at the reef, and it was utterly breathtaking.  I’d snorkeled before in Thailand and Malaysia, but never had I seen so many different kinds of fish — parrotfish, lion fish, clear jellies that didn’t sting, vivid corals, so many more, and yes, even a dark crevice with a moray eel tucked inside.  

We snorkeled there a few times before leaving, and it never fell short of amazing me.  But at the same time, whenever I looked down and realized I couldn’t see the bottom, cold fear knotted my stomach.  I could just imagine all sorts of horrors lurking below, maybe an enormous shark suddenly surging upward and eating me in one bite.  I loved it and hated it all at the same time.

I tend to feel this same way at the beginning of the year — any year.  I don’t know what the future holds, and it feels black and inky and oppressive, or blue and mysterious with who-knows-what lurking where I can’t see.  My natural assumption is that what I can’t see is probably going to hurt me.  Some people can charge into a year with bold plans and proclamations, while I would rather stand there, dipping my toes in cautiously, trying to work up the courage to actually jump.  Except you can’t really do that with a year. It happens, “ready or not.”

It’s especially hard in years like this one when I am fairly sure that there will be some significant changes.  I think this will be the year we move from Korea.  But I don’t know where we will move to or what my family will be doing there.  I don’t know where my kids will go to school, or if I will still be homeschooling most of them on December 31st.  We have two dogs to move to wherever that is, too, and I wonder how that will all go.  Will we have a good church?  Will we have friends? What will the kids be doing for fun when they leave the parkour and rock climbing classes here, when we don’t have this wonderful neighborhood full of friends?  What will our housing look like?  (Will we be in an apartment again?)  Skyler is planning to graduate early in June; will she be leaving for college, or will she spend a gap year with us?  Jayna is hoping to do an internship this summer, as it’s the last summer before her senior year of college.  So when will we see her again?

There are just so many questions, and very few clear answers.

But I started reading Paul David Tripp’s New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional on a January 1st.  It’s been one of those books that makes me think Tripp knows me, personally, very well.  As I was struggling over these thoughts and anxieties about the new year, the devotional I read pointed out Daniel 2:22, “He knows what is in the darkness and light dwells with him.”  Tripp goes on to write, “Remember today there is One who looks at what you see as dark and sees light... He holds both you and mysteries in his gracious hands, and because he does, you can find rest even when the darkness has entered your door.”

There’s a lot I did wrong in 2019 (like completely failing at my writing goals and blogging consistently), but I think I did some things well.  It was a good year, all in all, with so much for which to be grateful.  And instead of doing the usual listing of what I did right versus what I failed miserably at (don’t worry, I know what I did) and writing down some lofty aspirations, I just want to admit that I’m a little bit scared right now.  But I’m also closing my eyes and falling into what I can’t see, knowing that He who created me is holding me in His hands.  He knows what is in those places, and I’m trying to trust that He will work it for good.

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