Thursday, October 16, 2008

Musing: In Dark Clouds

...He came swiftly on the wings of the wind.

He made darkness His covering, His canopy around Him, thick clouds dark with water.

Psalm 18.11-12

In 1999, I began to experience unexplained physical difficulties. This led to the University of Michigan Health System where I went through several months of testing with cardiologists, pulmonologists, and neurologists to reach a diagnosis. The end result was the diagnosis of a rare form of muscular dystrophy, called mitochondrial enzyme deficiency. I was told that the disease will eventually cause all my muscles to fail. It was for me a period of darkness and thick clouds.

While awaiting the results of a muscle biopsy, my husband very wisely decided on a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Tahquamenon Falls. The falls are the largest falls east of the Mississippi, dropping about 50 feet and stretching nearly 200 feet across an amber, foaming river. In October, the trees are ablaze with fall color and the river is pure gold. I learned that the amber color of the water is caused by tannins leached from the cedar, spruce and hemlock in the swamps drained by the river. The state parks of Michigan have a wonderful visitor center there, with paths leading down to the falls, and then a large viewing platform built out over the falls. It sounds quite benign, but the viewing platform is several levels and can hold hundreds of people. To get to the viewing platform, there are 130 stairs. I knew I was having difficulty with some physical tasks, but hadn't yet learned all about this new disease. I knew I could go down stairs forever without any problem. Coming back up, I was soon to learn was a big problem!

After spending quite some time on the viewing platform, marveling at fall colors, the beautiful amber river, the amazing creativity of God, it was time to head back up the stairs. I got about one-third of the way up and began to have serious difficulty. My heart rate soared, it started skipping beats, I couldn't catch my breath, my muscles overheated causing my glasses to fog up, my muscles began to spasm, I was sweating profusely. Crowds were going up and down the stairs, so there was no stopping, but I couldn't get up by myself. My husband recognized my distress, grabbed my arm and assisted me as best he could to the top of the stairs. We finally reached the top and I was in real distress by that time. Fortunately there was a bench located just a few feet away from the stairs. We sat down and allowed my heart to calm down and my breathing to return to normal. It took a good half hour. During that time, people were coming up the stairs, laughing, carrying on normal conversations, and heading back down the path. To make matters even more insulting, most of those people were much older than I. Ugh!

Once I recovered, I decided we needed to go to the Lower Tahquamenon Falls before returning to our cabin. My husband was not excited by that prospect at all; he wanted to head right back to the cabin. I had scared him to death! I convinced him that I was fine, it was called the "lower" falls so there probably wouldn't be any stairs. We had driven over eight hours to see the falls, and I didn't want to miss this opportunity. We drove to the lower falls, walked the trail and sure enough there was another viewing platform with a steep set of stairs. I told my husband to head on down to view the falls and that I would just continue to walk the path.

As I headed up the path, I started to cry. I hated this new restriction on my activity. I could see all kinds of things in my life changing -- and not for the better! I was frustrated by the rebellion of my muscles. I was angry at my God who knit me together in my mother's womb and knew all about me. This didn't seem like the abundant life I had been promised at all! It was a dense, dark section on the the trail I had taken, as well as in my faith journey.

Earlier that morning, during my daily quiet time, I read three different passages of scripture: The first chapter of Psalms, a chapter in Ezekiel, and a chapter from Revelation. What was strange, seemingly coincidental, was the fact that each chapter talked about a river with trees planted beside it, whose leaf did not wither or fade, and in due time it would bring healing to the nations. As I walked along, crying, fussing at God, I began to notice the huge boulders beside the river. Growing out of the boulders were trees with amazing root systems clinging around the boulders and reaching down into the river. The trees soared 75-100 feet or more in the air.

As I stopped and took in the scene, scriptures came flooding back into my mind. I heard God distinctly say, "Susan, I know you are in a hard place right now. I know it seems incredibly rocky. But...if you will trust Me even in this, you will be like a tree planted by rivers of living water, and your leaf will not wither or fade, and you will bring healing to the nations." I was overwhelmed. God had come to me in the midst of dark clouds and thick darkness. I entered a little clearing and the colors began to blaze around me. The amber water was stunning. I decided to sink my roots down deep and become a tree planted by rivers of living water. Life has never been the same. Do I still struggle physically? Every day. However, I choose each day to sink my roots down deep and depend on my God who comes even in darkness and deep clouds.

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