A long time ago when I was a college student I drove from my university’s town to my home town almost every weekend. Rarely did I stay on campus other than through the week. The road home was quite narrow, a snake-curving drive. But I became so familiar and accustomed to it that there were times I got home and realized I didn’t remember long stretches of the road at all. And that was slightly frightening because there were places on that route home that were and could have been treacherous, but for some reason my mind went on automatic—body and muscle recall.
This memory surfaced when a friend and I were talking about having idols, making choices and turning a blind eye. She said there were periods in her life she couldn’t remember mostly because of lifestyle choices she made. During this time she had embraced hidden idols and the sacrifice they had required was that she didn’t remember long stretches of time from her past and her young motherhood was a blur.
I understood this.
When I look back on my life there were several periods and long stretches in the road I don’t remember traversing. There were high and treacherous places I don’t remember navigating. In retrospect I don’t remember how in the world I did it. But I am here.
During that time I was partly in survival mode: do what you have to do, what you need to do and there wasn’t room for much more.
This is true not only of my daily physical life, but of my spiritual life. I leaf through the thin pages of my bible and read notes made in the margins. There are dates marked and tiny writing next to verses and passages. The writings are explanations and road markers of where I was. During this period I created paintings. Several of them. These paintings are wordless, but they speak volumes about the stretch of road that I was on at the time. And I have my journals. Stacks of black books that open to expose not only my cursive handwriting, but my very soul—the essence of me, and far more importantly the faithfulness and goodness of God.
The notes in my bible, the paintings and the journals remind me that God has never left me. Never forsaken me to travel alone.
He never was or is absent—perhaps silent—but never absent.
Even in the midst of my survival modes when I could only whisper sentence prayers he was present. When I didn’t know how to pray, when I didn’t know how to ask the Spirit to apply the truth of God’s word to my life he was being faithful.
I know during these times I was spiritually and emotionally emaciated. I was living on the barest of it all. You could have counted my spiritual and emotional ribs.
The years of famine.
Those were the years I don’t remember several long stretches of the road. Like Naomi and Ruth on their way from Moab back to Bethlehem, I trudged putting one foot in front of the other.
I understand and know the famine years were partly a result of my own poor choices. There were signs that famine was coming, but I didn’t heed the warnings.
Those were the lean years. Lean, ugly years.
The strangest thing? I had very little real cognition of how critical the state I was in; I was too busy trying to survive and trying to make sure everyone else survived.
Just as I have experienced the years of famine I have enjoyed the years of plenty.
And I am in the midst of them now.
And theses years have been years of fatness: of feasts, of tables laden with the richest of food, of good wine, of deep fellowship, of spiritual healing and of iron blades being sharpened.
But there are so many people in my life, so many (especially women) I love and care for, who are in the famine. Daily they live on and in the barest of it all. Famine ravages. It pilfers in coffers already empty. Famine causes us to forget the abundance or to believe it will never come our way. We’re blinded from the hunger and thirst. And we just plain can’t see our way out.
I had years of plenty in the past, but I neglected to do something crucial: I failed to store away for the times of lean. I didn’t have a deep or broad enough reserve to take me all the way through the famine. Thankfully there were wonderful people around me with reserves who were willing to share.
I understand, now, that there may be another famine in my life, but I am putting God’s word and his promises in my storehouse. I am recording his faithfulness, his goodness, and his workings in my life. Because I will go back to them. I will reread; they will help me remember. They are mile markers. Altars named by the lessons I have learned about God and his character and his involvement in my history.
No longer am I naïve enough to think that there are no more treacherous places in the road. No longer am I gullible enough to believe that I can drive based solely on familiarity. I don’t want to lose seasons of time again. I want to be awake and aware and very present—and I want to have plenty in my reserve to share. Before and when famine has reduced others to bone thinness I want to have something to offer.
I never want to be able to count my ribs again.