I sat down with my cheese, crackers, nectarine and recorded episode of Real Housewives of NYC yesterday to enjoy a little quiet time after a busy morning when I heard my dog barking outside. She is a fiercely protective, twenty-two pound beagle mix, and she vigorously defends me from everyone who walks down my street. Normally, I would step out to reassure her that I am not, in fact, in danger, and return to my lunch, but I could find nothing outside that was drawing her attention. The street was empty. There were no chipmunks or cats to be seen. I looked in the nearby bushes for a bird, and found two dragonflies instead. I always pause at the presence of dragonflies. They have a lot of meaning for me since the passing of my mother, and two of them together make me think of my mother and my friend, Julie, who both art in Heaven.
When I see a dragonfly, I stop, pay attention, and listen. On this day, after a few minutes, I felt a little silly just standing there in the yard, but something in my spirit told me to be still. It reminded me of a reading I had heard at church a few days before.
In this reading, the Hebrews had been promised freedom from slavery in Egypt, but Pharaoh was in hot pursuit with his horses, chariots, and charioteers. The Hebrews were frustrated and terrified. They had put their hope in God to save them and now it really looked like they would be slaughtered in the desert. It would have been preferable for them to live out their difficult lives with their families back in Egypt than to meet this terrible end, and they felt abandoned and betrayed. God’s response is interesting. He doesn’t apologize for this latest development, and He doesn’t comfort them, but He does challenge them to trust Him when what they are seeing with their eyes sure seems hopeless.
“Fear not! Stand your ground, and you will see the victory the LORD will win for you today. These Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again. The LORD himself will fight for you; you have only to keep still.” Exodus 14
Being still is really challenging for me, and trusting is a big part of that. When someone I love is in trouble, or I’m worried about something, my instinct is to act. I want to Do Something. The idea of being still always feels too passive, but I am learning that it actually takes a lot of discipline and strength. In yoga class, we are working on ‘elbow planks’, and it’s a pose everyone dreads. We hold this position for what seems to be more and longer breaths each time, sweat dripping on our mats, and it takes every little bit of my strength to be still. This is a good approximation of what it feels like for me to trust God at times: holding my breath and sweating when I should be all zen and peace. Being still is not easy, but it will make us stronger and it is what helps us progress forward. I know this to be true.
As I stood there yesterday, watching the two dragonflies, another one came along, and this development had me reeling. Since two dragonflies represented people I love in Heaven, the additional one certainly meant someone I love had just died. My overactive mind can sometimes really present difficulties to me and the people who love me…after all, sometimes a dragonfly is just a dragonfly. I stopped this negative train of thought in its tracks, resolved to be still and trust, and returned happily to my cheese and crackers.
And yet, today, I heard that someone I care about died yesterday. Although we had never met, I felt such affinity for a thirty-seven year old woman named Holly. She was a young mother with stage four colon cancer, and she recently travelled to Medjugorje to find peace and healing. Holly’s spirit and her story were compelling and heartwarming, and I was one of many who were praying for her to be healthy enough to make the trip, which she did. Holly died less than two weeks after returning home. She leaves a husband and four precious babies. Her oldest child is seven years old.
So, how are we to understand something like this? As in the reading from Exodus, everything about what we can see in Holly’s story seems like chaos. It sure seems like she and her family were called and carried to a foreign land that promised restoration and healing, and were then abandoned. It appears they were left to suffer and struggle in the desert with cancer and the pain of loss. But God is telling me that that’s not so, that there’s much more to this story than I can see. Just the fact that people know about Holly is a blessing, because she really was a light in the world. Maybe that’s why she was here. But her husband and her children that are left behind will have to make sense of all of that, just as we do every day when we are confronted with situations that just don’t seem fair. It’s a big world, and there’s much that we cannot understand, so sometimes the answer just may be agonizingly simple and much harder than it looks: to be still and trust that God Himself is fighting for you. Even when life is unfair, and maybe especially then, maybe that’s what we’re called to do. And just like the Hebrews, maybe we will be filled with awe when we see what the Lord will do, and we will rejoice and wonder at how He carried us through to the other side.