His classmates trickle into school, trapped Brady-Bunch style in their respective squares. Each boasts a customized backdrop: outer space, Minecraft, background blur, a zoo . . . and Mom-zilla fixing to eat her offspring for breakfast.
“Your mom must be thrilled with your background!” my son’s teacher types in the chat.
I read her line and wonder if he detects the sarcasm infused. He did, after all, comb cyberspace in search of my WORST possible picture to create his virtual backdrop.
It’s also his screensaver.
I deserve this humiliation. I snapped the selfie over a year ago. Cognizant of creases premiering between my eyes, I could either laugh or cry. So, I laughed—on social media (regretfully)—showcasing the lines’ perfect continuity with groves in my knit hat. A friend christened it the “Creepy Cat Burglar” picture. She was right.
Here’s the wrinkle: If we live life long enough, we’ll acquire its visible battle scars: external manifestations of the wars within. (Insert yours here. If you don’t have them yet, you will.) They’re leveling-up badges of a sort—like the kind we ‘80s-byproducts earned blowing our allowances on arcade Donkey Kong. All of these badges come at a cost.
Shoulders bend, creases form, silver highlights (the appropriate euphemism for “grey hair”) appear, laugh lines sneak across our faces. Gravity pulls and joy lightens in this teeter-totter of body and soul. It’s a tolerable game—until the balance takes an untoward shift. Remember when your seesaw partner bolted for the monkey bars? Gravity, then, spares nothing—including backsides.
Meet anxiety: my seesaw counterpart and accomplice to each facial worry line. (I wish I had laugh lines instead.)
I’ve waited patiently in captivity, holding my breath for the glorious moment when circumstantial stars align and I will be completely anxiety-free. It was, I calculated naively, only a matter of time until I could summit this mountain and spit off the top:
Once 5th grade is over, this feeling in the pit of my stomach will go away . . . Once my doctor tells me I don’t have appendicitis, a brain tumor, or a heart condition . . . Once I read this book on curing anxiety . . . Once I muster up a plan for my life . . . Once I get married and once we have kids . . .
Month after month we cycled from anticipation to heartbreak.
It’s not supposed to take this long.
Birth announcements found our mailbox. I tore them open, outwardly happy but crying inside.
I swear all the pregnant women and new moms wait in Target’s parking lot until they see my car and follow me in. Are they smirking at me in the checkout aisle, my cart full of ovulation and pregnancy tests? Please God. I’ll be “anxious for nothing” if you just grant us this.
I laid the stick down gently on the porcelain tile and waited the three minutes of eternity. Heart pounding, hands tingling, mind racing, I grabbed my Bible on the nightstand and pried it open to the random page with Psalm 40 at the top. Trembling, I read the first line:
“I waited patiently for the Lord; And He inclined to me and heart my cry.”
Here was the answer to my patience, confirmed by lines radiating a glorious pregnancy pink. The stars finally aligned! Or maybe they just crossed, because in a matter of minutes the tide of anxiety held back for those sweet seconds rolled in—with a fury:
Once we figure out the bleeding . . . once we get the ultrasound . . . once placenta previa corrects . . . once pre-term contractions stop . . . once she’s no longer breech . . . once she’s born . . . once she gets enough milk and sleeps through the night . . . once I sleep through the night . . . once she gets through fifth grade . . . college . . . Once I stop worrying about it ALL, then I’ll stop worrying.
Once, it turns out for me, is never enough. It’s a moving target that promises peace and leaves me with nothing but holes and led in my stomach. I’m all out of patience for once.
Fifteen years of pregnancies lost and realized, anxiety disorders diagnosed, and a successive string of disappointing “once’s,” I slink past my son’s computer and wince again at my gargantuan image—wrinkles and all. I pry open my Bible to another “40,” this time in the book of Isaiah:
“Comfort, comfort my people” are the words God prescribes for a battle-scarred Judah whose future chapters are penned with eminent Babylonian captivity. He knew they were destined to live what Jen Pollock Michel describes (of their Deuteronomy ancestors) in A Habit Called Faith as “the story of an in-between place.” He knew they’d crave the comfort of His words in this new wilderness of waiting. “Isn’t that where we need faith the most?” Michel asks.
I read on, here in my own place of anxious in-between.
The lines reveal a God whose way is not necessarily the one of instant, circumstantial tidying. His is a balm of promised presence in the pain.
Isaiah 40 reveals Judah’s eventual release from captivity but heralds an even greater one at play: for bound bodies and souls. Comfort crescendos with promises not only of deliverance, but a Deliverer:
“A voice of one calling:
‘In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.’”1
Straight lines in the wilderness for the Messiah who meets us in our own. Straight lines because, as Tish Harrison Warren continues, “God did not keep bad things from happening to God himself. To look to Jesus is to know that our Creator has felt pain, has known trouble, and is well-acquainted with sorrow.” He “participates in our suffering, even as—mysteriously—in our suffering we participate in the fullness of Christ’s life.”
So with wrinkles that don’t lie, I cling to the mystery of Christ in me. And with God-breathed faith, I scale my wilderness mountain with eyes set not on its summit, but on the glory of the One who was and is, and is to come.2
“Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.”3
1 Isaiah 40:3
2 Revelation 4:8
3 Isaiah 40:5