Here I am at 50. I wrote you a letter like this when I turned 40. So much has happened in the last year that some days it feels as if two decades have passed rather than one.
I wrote in the first letter, “I’ve spent 40 years on this planet — I may be about halfway through my tour here. The thing that is most important to me — or should be — is how I stand with you and where you want me to go, what steps you want me to take.”
Well, let me be honest. I’m a little scared of where you might take me because of where I’ve been in the last year. I never imagined traveling such a deep path into pain, being so immersed in loss.
I know I’m supposed to picture “Footprints in the Sand” at times like this. The author of the poem is much disputed, but the allegorical piece refers to a dream where the writer sees his or her life as a set of footprints on the beach. During the journey, there were two sets of footprints but at the lowest periods there was only one set.
The character in the poem challenges God, asking why there is only one set ... where was he during those greatest trials? God answers in the dream that he was carrying her.
It’s strange because it’s not the visual — that image of two footprints going to one—that strikes me about that poem. It’s the fact that the writer didn’t feel God there, supporting his or her weight.
I understand that. There have been moments during this last year that I’ve felt carried, completely supported and lifted up. But there have been long periods of time that I feel like I’m alone on that shoreline. I feel like I’m stumbling along, calling out but the crashing waves are silencing my shouts.
I pray but I don’t feel heard. I read the Bible, seeking comfort, guidance, inspiration or instruction but waves of nothingness wash over my soul. I listen to different teaching and hear different sermons — hoping some new food will stimulate my spiritual appetite — but I leave having only nibbled mindlessly at the table.
I remember writing years ago about a friend who was struggling spiritually who said that she didn’t trust you anymore, God. I wrote how, “In God We Trust,” was just a saying on a coin in her pocket rather than a belief etched across her heart.
Do I no longer trust you, God? Well, I’ll admit I’m sometimes angry and I’m always confused. I prayed thousands of prayers over many, many years that seem to have been ignored. I still can’t believe the answer. I know you didn’t choose it. I assume this wasn’t the way you wanted it to go, but I’m still stunned that this was the outcome.
Still, I stumble along that beach. I have felt you holding me while waves of pain and grief have crashed all around me, threatening to pull me out like a rogue wave feeding me to the riptide. So, that memory of your comforting support keeps me walking, waiting to feel you near me or lifting me. I’m still moving forward, sometimes very slowly.
I know there are others on the beach, who are following their own journey. Many of them are praying for me and my family and loving us with hearts the size of lifeboats. We will not drown in our sorrows. We are not alone with our pain.
Also, I have not lost sight of the 49 years that came before this last one. I have not forgotten all the goodness in nearly five decades. Very few people leave this place without learning about sorrow or trauma or loss. I don’t think I deserved a pain-free existence. I have lived a life full of blessings, joy, love, and happiness. I remain grateful for all the wonderful things in my life, past and present. I can even look to a brighter future. Some day.
I still thank you regularly for our good health and protection. And I mean it when I say it.
Writing this letter marking my 50th milestone is difficult—probably an exercise in futility — because I can’t yet have perspective on what happened in the last year. I guess, now that I think about it, God, that’s how I know I still have faith that you are here and you are with me ... and maybe you’ve got me slung on your back as we walk through the sand: I have faith that one day I’ll have perspective that will allow me to trust in you as I have in the past. I haven’t given up on you.
Losing my eldest daughter didn’t make me lose my faith. In fact, there have been moments where I have even greater faith that there is something beyond this life. But I would like to feel like you are here with me now.
“Help us hear you, see you, and sense you in our lives,” I frequently pray with my family at night. So, while I’m struggling to hear you, see you and sense you, I still somehow believe that you’ll carry me until I find the way to get back in step with you.
Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith, family, and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in North Carolina with her family. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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