The fire is alive, an orange dance in the dark.
I typically underestimate how much light one small fire can bring to one dark room. But I see it today, because I am stilled long enough to pay attention.
I am here, under the soft blanket, in the shadow. A clock moves its hands in a slow circle.
These have been hard days, tired days, cuddle-up-by-the fire-and-drift-off-to-sleep-again days. Somewhere, far down inside, my heart says it’s okay to be like this. There is a strange peace, I think, that comes to the sick. It is a grace from God, given to the unwell. I do not wish to be sick chronically, but for a time, I am acutely aware that my own life has granted me permission to stop. Sickness pries a woman’s own fingers off her overworked soul.
I want to be well again. But for now, I live surrendered under a sickness.
Call it a moment of fever-induced weakness, but I snapped a picture of myself yesterday, with my face to the fire.
I posted that picture of myself on Facebook and wrote the following:
“So this is me, tired and sick and weak,” I wrote to my Facebook community. “My brother says I look homeless, like someone who has found a quiet corner in some alley somewhere. Maybe I’ve posted this picture because the sickness has gone to my brain, making me do crazy things. Or, quite possibly, it’s that #preapproved message that has gone to my brain. Beware, the lure of vulnerability.
“In any case, I have been feeling rather sorry for myself, unable to do a lot of the things I love to do, on account of being so ill. I was diagnosed with C.Diff on Friday. So I couldn’t join my family at church today. I don’t have the energy to write on my blog. I can’t exercise with my friend Becca. I had to say “no” to an invitation from my friend Erica. I’ve been too tired to put my own children to bed. I’ve spent approximately 72 percent of my waking hours in the bathroom. Food tastes horrible.”
“But then, gospel happened. I ‘went’ to church this morning, online. (Isn’t that something, how we can do that these days?) The gospel saved my sorry self again. The pastor — his name is Adam — preached a convicting message about not grumbling or complaining. He reminded me about the good in my life.
“See: I am down, but not defeated. I may ‘look’ homeless, but I have a soft cushion under my head and a roof over me and a family around me, praying. And then that pastor prayed, ‘Dear God, there’s no place we go that You are not already present.’
“I am not alone. And you, my friend, are not alone. We are gonna make it. You know that? We really are. This is not the end of the story. Not my illness, or your heartbreak, or your missed flight, or the broken relationships, or the lost job, or (__________). It is not the end of the story. It is just a plot twist. The best ending imaginable is coming. We are gonna make it.
There’s no place we go that God is not already present. We’re going to be okay.
And then I hit Publish on the Facebook post, sending my sad-happy self into the world. I hoped my small story might light up the darkness for someone, like some orange dance in someone else’s dark.
My favorite farmer came in from his barns a few moments ago to check on me. I told him what I was writing to you.
And I confessed something to him, that I’ll confess to you:
In my darkness, I’ve done some un-light, un-shiny things. I have grumbled and fussed and cussed and doubted God. When I was without a diagnosis, I spent more time on Google than with God. I could even sense God near, like He was looking over my shoulder, saying, “Seek Me first, Jennifer. Turn around.” I would stiffen at these keys, tapping inquiries into Google, and I would reply to the Lord like this: “Can’t you see I’m doing something here, God? Can’t you see that I’m trying to figure out WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME???”
That would be an un-light, un-shiny moment.
I told my favorite farmer about that, and he just listened. Then he and I talked awhile about how there’s no darkness so dark that can’t be overtaken by the light.
He came in close to me when he said these words: “In fact,” he said. “When darkness is all around you, it will make your own light shine brighter.”
So what does that mean for us?
What does that mean for us who are down and weary? What does that mean for any of us in this life who are chronically ill, barely making ends meet, facing down the demons of cancer, Google-weary, trying to hold together a broken family, trying to piece together a broken heart?
I think it means that no matter what we’re facing, we get to choose.
Every day, we get to choose.
God says we are called to light up the darkness and our God-colors into the world. There is no “if”.
There is no:
“If” I get better, then I’ll shine.
“If” I make more money, then I’ll shine.
“If” I ever find a spouse, then I’ll shine.
“If” I overcome this ache, then I’ll shine.
“If” I have the time, then I’ll shine.
“If” I feel like it, then I’ll shine.
We don’t shine because of circumstances. We shine because of Jesus.
The time is now, friend. Whether we’re standing up straight, or flat on our backs, God is calling us all the same. This is our time.
“Arise, shine,” the Lord says. “For your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.”
Shine your beautiful life.
Dance the Orange Dance.
Read more by Jennifer Dukes Lee in How to Know for Sure You Belong
Jennifer Dukes Lee used to cover crime, politics, and natural disasters as an award-winning news journalist in the Midwest. Now, Jennifer uses her reporting skills to chase after the biggest story in history: the redemptive story of Christ. She blogs here. Soon, her words will make their way into her debut nonfiction Christian book, Love Idol: Letting Go of Your Need for Approval – and Seeing Yourself through God’s Eyes.She and her husband live on the Lee family farm in Iowa with their two daughters.