I am 6 years old standing on a large dam somewhere in the Smoky Mountains. I clutch a black bear stuffed with wood wool recently purchased from a souvenir shop somewhere between Cherokee and Gatlinburg. I walk out across the top of the dam with my parents and peer over the edge. A wall of concrete stretches below me. What happens next is seared into my memory. Somehow the black bear escapes my grasp. I fumble to catch it but my arms are too short and gravity is too swift. The bear plummets and for the next 8 seconds, I watch it drop. In spite of the dam’s curvature, it never bumps the side of the wall as it is swept away. I never see it hit bottom. It is just gone.
Mild childhood trauma, to be sure, compared to all the unthinkable broken surrounding the innocent today. Yet the memory remains on replay in my mind. Perhaps because nowadays, I am the bear on that dam. After these past two years, can anybody out there seriously claim that they are not?
I am the bear on that dam and I’ve already taken the plunge. I didn’t jump. I wasn’t pushed. Somehow the top of the dam escaped my grasp. My arms were too short, gravity too swift, and I plummeted. And whereas one side of the dam is a reservoir, the other is bone dry and painful. Wood wool may bounce, heart and soul does not. You find yourself in an endless cycle of seasons lying stunned among the stones. Jeremiah languished two-and-a-half chapters of Lamentations in a rock quarry before he ever caught breath enough in his lungs to sputter, “Great………is Thy………faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:23)
As you dissect your drop from the vantage of the valley, the mind spins analogies. You ponder strange perspectives like, “Is this the same kind of bottoming-out the disciples must have felt as they stood watching Jesus disappear into the clouds? (Acts 1:9-11).” He had just left them for the second time. The first time they were crushed by the brutality and finality of His death. Then His resurrection whipsawed them the other direction through disbelief to joy. Now, He was gone again. And even though He left them with a promise, no doubt each one of them chased Jesus’ descending and ascending moments of late up and down the strings of their faith like a yo-yo for the next ten days.
To be clear, this was not my first dam. Life tends to be a series of them, does it not? But this particular plummet bore the accumulative weight of all the drops preceding it like no other. It magnified every closed door behind me, of which there have been many. It cracked the tanks of my resolve and my resilience.
If you care anything at all about where you were before gravity took you over, you straggle back to the bottom of the concrete wall from which you flew. And it will become your wailing wall. Like the Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem, you scribble prayers on scraps of paper and cram them into every crevice. You brush the wall like a blind man seeking random dots of Braille until your fingertips crack and bleed, searching for any hint of a why. You touch the wall for the coolness of water you know flows refreshingly deep a few feet away on the other side.
The certainty of what happens next or what ought to happen next is known only to the Redeemer of every dam fall since the big one. Sometimes those two certainties never align. There is no scaling the wall behind you without the Lord’s help (Psalm 18:29) and some walls can’t be scaled. Only those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31). Sometimes wait means be still; sometimes it means move slowly forward. Even if the dry streambed before you looks like a Red Sea road without a mirage of Sea to define it, you trust forward. There will be good surprises ahead and some may even catch you from behind. You never know when a prayer once answered “Not Yet” becomes a “Yes” in God’s timing. A dam behind you may break as your dry course becomes a river again. Greater still, the spring within may rupture upwards through the cracked sump of your soul as the River of Life rises with healing in His waves. This moment awaits everyone who has imbibed the Living Water.
Until this moment comes, bear on. Bear on, Eve. Bear on, Adam.