(You will want to read part one first. Go here for that.)
Mid February I was spending a few days with my parents and as is my usual custom, I was going through Preacher Dad’s books. Some I tossed to the trash, some were reserved for the church library and others I thumbed through and kept for my personal reading.
One such book caught my attention because it was written by a female author with whom I was not familiar. The paperback cover was outdated and had the look of a cutesy devotional book. You know the kind – a picture of a window seat with a basket of knitting (yawn) and a large fern lurking in the upper left corner whose pot was just out of frame. For this reason alone, The Strong Place almost landed in the trash bag. Its redeeming grace was its subtitle: One woman’s remarkable discovery of God’s abiding presence.
Weeks after returning home I relegated The Strong Place by Marion Duckworth to my beach bag. For nearly a month my daughter, Audra, and I have revisited our favorite type of therapy. The first spring after losing our Andrew, she and I found relief together from the toll of grief as we relaxed our tense bodies on the sand, the hypnotic breaking of the waves quieting our anxious thoughts. We dubbed our time together in that place “beach therapy.”
Another spring finds us plotting which days we can make the quick drive over the causeway to sand and surf again. Fortunately we live minutes away from some of the loveliest beaches in the world. We pack our lunch, towels and my dilapidated sand chair. I often add a folder of study notes to review because if you know me, you know I am not very good at relaxing either physically or mentally. It’s a bad trait and I’m working on it! Isn’t that an oxymoron? I have to work on relaxing! Add that little personality quirk to the one in which I have to plan for spontaneity and you’ll better understand who you’re dealing with here.
That feeling that I’d tried to ignore – the one that threatened to overwhelm me if I paid too much attention to it was growing stronger. As I floated on my back in the clear Gulf waters I finally turned my attention fully to that feeling.
Familiar words not verbalized yet still spoken upwards to God. “What is wrong with me? Why am I feeling like this?”
Hard to explain why so many things feel so hard…feel like too much work. I don’t want to take the easy way out and give up on the very life God gives. Too often it’s just so much easier to avoid rather than to engage. But that’s not the kind of person I want to be. So many things have changed. I’m the same, yet different, too. Like looking through a child’s kaleidoscope, the prisms create a picture. Yet with one twist of the wrist, what you see changes. The hands holding it are the same. The eye at the viewing end is the same eye. The position of the kaleidoscope has not moved. Still the shape and colors of the scene have shifted and the picture is not what it once was.
Life took a terrible twist and it all seems harder now. For two years my heartbeat has been…endurance. We must have a “faith that endures.” Truly God’s grace is the empowerment to endure circumstances He chooses not to change. However His grace is even more dynamic than that. Grace is also strength. And strength is what I need. Strength to choose to live again in ways that I’ve neglected. And I’d take a supply of courage, too. Courage to take the first step and make the first move when hiding is my default du jour.
The picture changed when the twist was made. And my confidence was hiding somewhere in a dark colored prism.
Day One I lie floating on my back, supported by the silky salt water. I wonder why life can’t be this easy. Just floating through, head hinged back, eyes upward…at rest.
Day Two I sit in my faded sand chair, legs splayed out on gritty sand. Sunglasses, sun hat and Marion Duckworth’s The Strong Place in my hands. Each day that Audra and I had made our mini escape for beach therapy I pulled the 80’s paperback from my bag. At first I read with hesitancy – my skeptic’s radar ever alert. Would this woman write feel good philosophies chock-full of “shoulds” and “ought to’s.” A how to for the good Christian woman who wants a nice Christian life?
On page 28 of chapter two I marked a line with a black inked check. A week later and I was highlighting phrases in yellow and placing little tabs horizontally on pages I wanted to revisit. Eleven Day-Glo tabs in all.
Day two and the hour of beach therapy was almost up. Dripping from a last plunge in the water, I plopped down into my chair. Drying my hands, I picked up the book. From an inner pocket in my beach bag I pulled the yellow highlighter.
“We need to leave!” my daughter called from water’s edge.
“I’m almost finished with this book…just a few pages to go. Then I’ll be ready,” I holler back.
Sunglasses shield my eyes from the glare on the page. Chapter fifteen is entitled, “By Faith.”
On page 181, I move the yellow tip over this, “God has reminded me that to gain victory, you must have battles, some of which will end in defeat. I am thankful that he is faithful, even in my failures.”
“Amen to that,” I whisper.
Page 182 and I slide the highlighter here, “Because God does abide in me and has been leading me into truth, I want to bear the fruit of his nature more than I want freedom from pain.”
“Yes, me too,” I mentally assent.
Another line…more yellow. “My responsibility is not to keep myself in him, but to count on the fact that I am in him and to rest.”
One more page to read and we’d pack our bags and leave the soothing sound of rushing waves. Return another day for another hour of therapy on the surfside.
I turn the page and begin the end. Mrs. Marion Duckworth writes of pruning and fruit of discipleship and then what I read next makes me catch my breath.
I read and read again. I uncap the highlighter and a tear runs down my face. I feel it’s warmth on my left cheek as brilliantly as I feel the sun on my shoulders.
And I highlight these words and I tab the page, “Day after day I have learned again that the rest of faith is not an existence like that of a jellyfish floating in the warm currents of the Gulf Stream. It is a series of choices to surrender and trust God completely that I must make from moment to moment.”
Day One…supine in the Gulf of Mexico, eyes upward, soul pleading with God for rest…physical, mental, spiritual…in Him.
By His grace I have endured—my faith intact, my resolve firm. But rest has been more allusive.
In 1983, how was I to know the twists that lay ahead. I was a college sophomore and life was good and life was fun. A young woman, confident that she could figure life out, no matter what turns it might take. Why not? My faith had yet to be tried. I had some things going for me.
In 1983 Marion Duckworth’s second book, The Strong Place, is published by Tyndale. Twenty-nine years later, I scrounge through a box of theology books, sermons on cassette tapes, old church bulletins, and a few forlorn greeting cards.
The subtitle intrigues me and I choose to overlook the outdated cover art.
How was I to know what only God can know? How was I to know that on Day One at the Beach the Week of April 15, 2012, I would lie in the ocean, eyes upward, a lump in my throat and ask God for help.
How was I to know that on Day Two He would speak the words I needed to hear…words that would strengthen me and give me just enough courage for now?
How was Marion Duckworth to know that her journey would intersect mine and God would speak to me through words she’d penned on paper from her bedroom “office”?
As I floated in the Gulf waters on April 16th asking God what was wrong with me and wondering why I didn’t feel at rest, how was I to know that the very next day He would answer. He would answer with words written twenty-nine years earlier by another woman who had the same questions. His answer to her was the same for me. His answer to me is the same for you.
Each day is new. Each day it is given to us to choose. Choose each moment that the choice needs making.
Choose to surrender.
Choose to trust.
Choose to rest.
Regardless of the turns in the road and the twists life takes. No matter whether we have days of ease or life gets hard. Our hearts must choose Jesus and the rest He has already secured.
And even as I write, I’m reminded of a similar message delivered by my son, Andrew. Two years ago I took his Bible from the shelf and found the only two scriptures he had ever highlighted. From those passages he’d traced over in green, Andrew’s Message was born, emblazoned on my heart. “Life is hard. Look to Jesus.”
My choice must be to rest in Christ. Courage will be there. My confidence must remain in Him. (Tweet this.)
And that is what He’d have me know.