“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” Jonah 1:12
Where is he? I thought his plane landed thirty minutes ago. Why is he not at the arrival gate? I frantically paced in front of the ARRIVALS sign.
Finally, I caught a wave of copper hair and my brother’s wide, dimpled smile. “Hey, Sis, have you been waiting long?”
Months prior to this reunion were the longest of my life. Winter was quickly approaching,making the days grey and short like my mood and my patience about returning home to South Carolina.
I moved to Montreal a week after college graduation. Like many decisions made during that time, it was quick, one tracked and void of prayer or spiritual guidance. Goal number one: GET AWAY.
Away from what, exactly? I was not quite sure, but I knew in all my infinite wisdom of twenty-one years that I was tired of people (aka my parents), telling me how I should live. You know — God in the center, prayer before decisions, Believers only to date — a complete buzz-kill on how I wanted to live my life.
So, at twenty-one, there I was, everything in my life playing out exactly as I envisioned: living in the heart of a major French speaking city, working in finance and paying my own way — check.
Foreign boyfriend, friends who spoke multiple languages — check.
Running away was not a new strategy of mine. I ran away to college, to Scotland, and then to Montreal. In all three places God dealt with my heart. He saw me, knew me and wanted me to abide in Him no matter where I landed, a notion I continually pushed aside.
Submitting to God meant living life devoid of pleasure. Christianity was a laundry list of rules that held me back. Ironically, while avoiding a “suppressive’ relationship with God, I increasingly felt more depressed and alone in the world.
It was exhausting pretending that everything was okay. Good news was that my parents and friends were thousands of miles away, so I was accountable to no one. All this “freedom” ultimately led to a breakdown that sent me sobbing in my boss’s office, packing my bags and arriving home just hours later. HOME.
Sitting in my parents’ living room, I felt like a little girl who just needed her momma and daddy to tell her everything was going to be alright. I let down my prideful guard and confessed that the decisions I made out of selfish desire brought me home to their sofa that night.
Later, while preparing for bed, I thought it odd that they did not launch a sermon series at me about the consequences of sinful choices. Instead of preaching to me, they comforted me in the same was they did when I was little. It was in the dark, quiet, moments before drifting off to sleep, that it clicked.
We learn about Jonah as children — disobey God, get thrown off a boat, then swallowed by a whale. I mean, did Jonah really think he could outrun God and God would not find him? Jonah knew he could never escape God’s call. When the storm came, he knew its terror was because of him. It was not until he was literally in the belly of a big fish, alone and totally dependent on God’s mercy that he surrendered to God’s will for his life.
I have never been in the belly of any huge fish, but I have experienced life in the deep, dark pit of despair. Sinking deeper and deeper, I screamed silently for someone to wrap their arms around me, to save me from myself and to lift me out of the hole I had dug for myself.
And like Jonah, I knew I was in the wrong boat. The life I lived was not the life God intended for me. It seemed easier to make my own way than to trust and obey a Heavenly Father. I purposefully ran and hid miles away from any family or friends who would call me out as a rebellious hypocrite. The last thing I wanted was for someone to realize I was a fake. Yes, pride was a close companion of mine.
I couldn’t outrun God.
He chose me to be His daughter and pursued me until I surrendered to His call of loving grace. No matter how hard I tried to push Him, the Lord relentlessly pursued me.
After visiting my family and making the decision to return home to South Carolina, I went back to Canada and worked a few more months to save money to move home, but it wasn’t easy. I severed a relationship that I knew from the beginning was wrong for me and spent those last months in a beautiful city completely alone but not without hope.
All alone, I felt God’s presence like never before. I started leaning on Him to direct my paths and began obeying His commands for the first time in my life. I reconnected with friends and family I had pushed away and openly shared my burdens and failures over the past few years.
As Montreal’s skyline grew faint, each mile taking my brother and me closer to the US border, my spirits began to lift. To this day, seeing my brother in that airport is one of my most cherished memories. In that moment, I knew that physically and spiritually, God was saving me. My brother rescued me, but the Lord delivered me. Like the gospel song, “When nothing else could help, LOVE lifted me.” Hallelujah!
The Christian walk is difficult. We must stop denying the truth and confess that we need help. We must open our hearts and minds to hear and obey God’s Word, even when it leads us to act contrary to all feeling and instinct. We can resist, rebel and run, but that only provides temporary relief. Total surrender allows us to abide in the comforting arms of our Father’s grace and mercy and in His infinite love and protection.
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:7-14
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