For Gideon | Not Here Says the Ocean
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Not Here Says the Ocean

Not Here Says the Ocean

I knew it would be beautiful. I just never expected it to be so big.

Leaving as quickly as it had come, the dense fog around us rolled back dramatically, revealing steep cliffs that towered over us on either side. Virid moss clung tightly to the damp stone walls, climbing higher and higher until it reached their jagged edges high above us. A swift current hurried over my bright red Hunter boots as we stood in the middle of the cold, ankle-deep water, stunned into silence by the enormity of the canyon before us.

Or, perhaps, by our smallness.

An icy breeze emerged from somewhere deep in the gorge, making a loose strand of hair dance around my face. Nothing could be heard but the relentless lapping of water at our feet. None of us knew how far we could explore or what we might find when we got there, but the mystery of something bigger than all of us beckoned us forward.

Deeper and deeper into Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon we went, trudging along the smooth, slick stones of the riverbed with unsteady steps, each threatening to throw us headfirst into the water. We worked against the current, growing quicker and fiercer as it threaded through the ancient cliffs. As the water deepened to our knees, we zigzagged back and forth to whichever bank had fewer boulders to climb over. At her deepest and most trepid, Fjaðrá River required us to ford together, our crew just large enough to anchor someone steadily on each side of the river before the chain of eight of us crossed arm in arm.

The roar of cascading water grew clearer and closer, luring us with its song. My pulse quickened. My breath caught in my chest. As we hugged the rock face around one last boulder, I looked straight up the edge of the cliff and into a cloudy but bright sky. A feeling of wonder overtook me, an awe unlike anything I’ve ever experienced or may ever know again. A tiny corner of the veil between heaven and earth had slipped open, and I was not just standing at the end of a canyon somewhere in Iceland but, I felt, on the brink of the throne room of heaven.

The cliffs opened up suddenly to a swirling pool, fed by a cluster of waterfalls. The bank sloped gently upward to our right until it met the towering stone, blanketed with soft moss for weary visitors. Grandeur and beauty and majesty swarmed my senses, and I knew it wasn’t just the view before me. Fjaðrárgljúfur had invited me not just to the base of a thundering foss but into the very grandness of God Himself. My soul trembled, aware of my own frailty, aware of being seen and known by One who saw me even still.

I knew He was beautiful. I just never expected Him to be so big.

Years later, I found myself lying awake night after night, too many moments lived in this broken world having shoved the magic of those few hours in a canyon to the faded edges of my memory. Brian and I had just, inexplicably, requested Sam’s file — the first step to adopting him — and I struggled to make sense of it. We were excited, yes. Overjoyed, yes. Grateful, yes. But we were also afraid. Desperately afraid.

Questions chased off sleep until the wee hours of the morning, and nightmares ensured sleep never stuck around too long. Each morning came too soon, and even the third cup of extra coffee failed to touch the tired I felt, because the tired lived deep in my soul. My heart held tight to the tiny boy with the biggest smile, but I wrestled with the logic, the wisdom, of adopting a second child with disabilities.

I told myself it was because Gideon consistently interacted better with kids older than him. I told myself adopting an older child made more sense with our jobs, because Sam would immediately have access to therapies within our local school system. I told myself their personalities perfectly complimented one another, and Sam’s needs were — despite the very different diagnoses — so similar to Gideon’s. We had walked this road before.

But despite all my excuses, the truth was that I didn’t know why God had led us here. I kept myself awake with mental acrobatics, trying to reason away why we were pursuing this specific child when God had laid him on our heart with seemingly no reason at all. As often as family and strangers alike asked us, I didn’t have an answer to their constant question: Why Sam?

I didn’t know. I couldn’t explain why it was Sam.

And in the absence of answers, my heart turned instead to asking new questions.

What if we couldn’t handle two kids with special needs? What if we didn’t have the time for two kids, much less two kids with disabilities? I was already hopelessly tired. What if we didn’t have the energy? What if Sam came home and never attached? What if Sam, in turn, ruined Gideon’s attachment? Adopting Sam would mean certain supports and resources would be out of the question. There would be things we could no longer pursue for Gideon, including a particular private school on the other side of town. What if that meant Gideon never lived independently? What if adopting Sam took away the one thing that made the difference between Gideon living with us forever or living on his own? What if we had two adult children living with us well into our retirement years? What if the first weeks with Sam were as hard as the first weeks with Gideon? What if we regretted it? What if we couldn’t do it? What if we weren’t enough? What if we found this wasn’t actually the plan laid out for us? What if we realized we had heard God wrong? Perhaps most scary of all, what if we never had the answer to the question everyone seemed to be asking.

What if it wasn’t Sam all along?

In between the questions without answers, we took the next tentative step forward, and then the next, and then the next, each one as slick and unsteady as the rocks under the Fjaðrá River. First was the call to Stephanie, the beloved social-worker-turned-friend who walked with us through the ups and downs of Gideon’s adoption. Next was a call to Madison Adoption Associates, the placement agency who last had Sam’s file. Then came the international adoption specialist, then seventy hours of training, and then a final sign off from our case worker. We knew with each phone call, with each email, with each unstable step closer that God could close the door. Or we could fall headfirst into the water.

But somehow, inexplicably, we didn’t. The doors kept opening and we kept walking through, questions and all.

As the doors opened one by one, I committed to a Bible reading plan that covered Genesis to Revelation in sixty days. It had been a long while since I had read the Bible all the way through, and I hoped it might slow the current of fear and doubt threatening to sweep me away. Or at least help me sleep. One morning, as we closed in on Christmas, I found myself dredging through the book of Job.

For the record, I’m not a big Job fan. I never have been. The book of Job is confusing, and I don’t like to feel confused. It’s dark, and I don’t like dark things. It’s poetic, and I don’t like poetry. It’s just not my favorite book, and so, if I’m honest, it’s one I usually pass right over. Unsurprisingly, I found myself this particular morning eager to get through the day’s assigned reading. I flirted with the idea of skipping it. No one would even have to know. Maybe I could make it up to God with double the chapters elsewhere in Scripture. But, I reminded myself, I promised Kirsten I would finish this out, and I would. I’m nothing if not stubborn.

And, good news for me, so was Job.

By the middle of the book that bears his name, Job is wrestling with the world. He’s been through hell and back, and in the face of much encouragement to the contrary, he won’t give up, not on God, nor on his need to know why. He won’t stop seeking, won’t stop asking the questions with seemingly no answers.

In Job 28, our pitiful friend is asking where to find wisdom, and, in the absence of an immediate answer, he inventories instead place after place where wisdom is not. It’s not in the rocks, nor in the valleys. It’s not in the birds of the air, nor in the beasts of the earth. It can’t be bought, or mined for, or valued with jewels. Man can dam up streams and cut channels deep into the mountains, but he cannot find wisdom there. He cannot make wisdom surrender to his own design.

So where, Job asks, can wisdom be found? Where is the place of understanding? With admittedly no understanding of where Job might have lived geographically or much knowledge of Biblical history, I imagine him at this point in our story standing on the edge of some cliff, shouting over the roar of the waves below him, demanding some fragment – desperate for some fragment – of an answer. Just like I was.

Turns out I’m not the only one to ever scream questions I can’t answer into my deafening doubt.

And, suddenly, Job gets his answer:

“‘It is not here,’ says the ocean.

‘Nor is it here,’ says the sea.”

I stopped. I read those lines again, this time out loud.

“Not here,” says the ocean.

And then again.

“Not here,” says the ocean.

And then again.

“Not here,” says the ocean.

The wonder I felt in that Icelandic canyon that day came flooding back to me. I remembered the cliffs and the moss and the thundering water. I remembered the very fabric of creation testifying to who God was, testifying to His grandeur, His vastness, His extravagance, His creativity, His faithfulness. The very world in which we live knows that wisdom can’t be found in anything it has to offer. Fjaðrárgljúfur knew it that day, knew it as I stood between its crevices and felt the pleasure of the Lord swirl around me like the icy breeze.

Wisdom, whispers the ocean, can only be found in God.

Wisdom, whispers the sea, can only be found in the fear of God, in knowing Him and following where He calls us to go.

I realized, as I repeated those words over my heart, that I was looking for wisdom in all the wrong places. It wasn’t in therapies, or in the best schools, or in the white picket fence dreams we held on to. It wasn’t in anything the world had to offer. We weren’t pursuing Sam because of anything we could reason. We weren’t pursuing Sam because he made logical sense for our family. We were pursuing Sam because when we saw Sam, we saw our son. Because God had simply called Him ours.

That night, as all the what if questions fought off sleep, I fought back with the answer that had finally, at least momentarily, at least for a chapter, settled Job’s heart.

What if…

Not here says the ocean.

What if…

Not here says the ocean.

And as I allowed the truth to wash over my soul, as fresh and cold as Fjaðrá River over my Hunter boots, I realized it was rewriting the what if questions.

No longer was the question What if it’s not Sam?

No, as I shouted that what if over the canyon of my fear, I heard a new echo back, as confidently and assuredly as if the Lord had spoken it out loud:

What if…this isn’t about you?

It wasn’t accusing. It wasn’t dismissive. It wasn’t about my smallness, but rather about His bigness.

What if… it is Sam, and you choose to walk away anyway?

And then came another, and another, and another.

What if we heard God right and chose not to heed His voice?

What if God wants to bring healing to our family through Sam? What if he wants to bring healing just like he did through Gideon, even when we couldn’t see it?

What if when Jesus talked about going to the blind and the lame and the disabled, what if when He talked about going to the people the world overlooks, what if He meant that literally?

What if He literally meant we’d have to lose our life to find it?

And what if that means giving up all of our expectations and our goals and our dreams for something bigger than us?

What if Jesus wasn’t being hypothetical?

What if it wasn’t hyperbole?

What if he actually meant His people to live this way?

What if His Kingdom actually looks like this, like the very thing we’re afraid of?

What if, when the veil between heaven and earth peeked open that day in Iceland, it was so God could prepare my heart for these questions I would ask five years later?

What if this truly isn’t about me? Or us? Or even Sam?

What if it’s about something so much bigger than any of us?

And what if that means our story isn’t over yet?

What if this is our story, right here, right now, right in the middle of our fear and doubt and questions?

I knew it would be beautiful. I just never expected it to be so big.

  • Jackie Hilton
    Posted at 21:23h, 20 July Reply

    Good luck!

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