But by the grace of God I am what I am

The noise extinguishes all attempts to gain mental clarity. Loud. Deafening. Instinct or intuition blast warnings in my head. Undetected. Unable to hear. Oblivious or unwilling. Keep walking. Through the crowd. Through the chaos. I don’t know how I got here. I’ve been here so long. Was there anything before this? Everything is foggy. Unable to avoid pitfalls. Distracted, disoriented by the pandemonium surrounding me. The loud. I fall in. I claw and scratch to get out. No one hears my cries. They’re carried off by the commotion. Afraid. Alone. Hurting. A microcosm of the enormous suffering to come. I don’t know that yet. I’ll learn. Every pit has its own unique characteristics. Some sprawled with jagged rocks. Some with slimy, steep embankments. Others with narrow openings lined with sandpaper that scrapes my skin off during the jostling freefall. The first pit stole my breath away. New. Unfamiliar. First is far underappreciated. Stunning. Debilitating. The English language has not a word in existence capable of capturing the essence of the ordeal. A “deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves”. Saudade. A Portuguese term that carries such a strong tone and piercing symbolism it cannot be effectively translated beyond the definition italicized above. I know it. I know it will come. It never left. Bits and pieces linger like the granules from the sandpaper rubbed and embedded into my skin. Falling. I am powerless. Weightless. Descent into the hollow is peaceful. Exhilarating even. Length of fall, unknown.  Impact with the base of the cavern certain, and excruciating. I expect it. A familiar pattern emerges. Meanwhile, the noise.

Pounding. Blaring. It penetrates every cell in my body. Deep, then deeper. Exploding. Vibrating against my skin like the clash of symbols. Permeating my being. Blurring. Blinding. Intrusive. The sun does not shine here, if it did it wouldn’t be visible. It’d be blacked out by the shadows of the crowd. The people that matter, the people that don’t, the people that shouldn’t. The air is dank and musty. Sweaty and sour. Moist, clammy skin rubbing against mine. Pungent. The smell of alcohol that’s been digested and secreted through glands forcefully trying to exude the toxin. A thick cloud hangs overhead wreaking of skunk spray but I know it’s not from any animal. Covering my face. Protecting. Hiding. Crunch! Under my feet. Sensation ruminates. Looking down.  Can’t see. Legs, feet, hustling. Hurrying. Too many, legs, feet. Cramped. Crushed. Congested. Something sticky, something squishy. Another crunch and something crumbles under my step. I feel it, I know it’s there. I can’t see it. I wonder what else is down there. Make my way through the collision of bodies bumping meaninglessly into one another. Like zombies. No obvious destination or objective, just bumping. No civilized speech heard. No intelligible or comprehensible communication. Only jumbles of mumbles. Meaningless. Fruitless. Inconsequential. All mashed together like gravy, potatoes and turkey on a thanksgiving plate. No separation. No tidy compartments per portion. Everything bleeding over onto each other. Unable to distinguish the individual flavors. Are there any?

Is there any individuality? Nothing stands out. No one stands apart from the crowd. Everyone looks the same. Some male, some female, some wearing red or blue. Skirts and jackets but nothing set apart. It’s all a blur. Passing one another. Colliding. Unsure of my direction. Unsure there is a direction. No GPS, map or information counter. Deviation. Misdirection. Wrong way. A constant flurry of movement. Circling. Bumping. Heart racing, hard to breathe. Fewer pits. Faster ascends. Callouses and dense scares take the place of open wounds. Thick skinned. Broken in. Seasoned. Stretch, tall. Above the canopy of the mob. Bumped. Off balance. Stretch again. Difficult. Absurd. Useless. Anxious for a glimpse of beyond. Only bodies. Jump. Bounce. Jarred. Jerked. More walking. With the crowd. Against the crowd. Hope floats in and out like whiffs of fresh air followed by a stale breeze. Rigid body movements, tense. Shoulders tight. Both arms pressed against my sides with hands extended forward. Formative posture to buffer the body blows. Ouch! That was my ankle. My shoulder! Something pointy just poked into my side. I hate this! I don’t want to be here. I want out! My breathing is restless and my chest heaves and caves. Faster and faster. Looking, looking, always looking. More of the same. Searching. A way out. Over there. No, over there! Am I the only one who wants out? Lost. In the crowd but separate. Among the bodies but apart. Pushing. Pushing hard. Finding a way. Making a way. No time for “excuse me’s” and polite “pardon me’s”. Get out of my way! I am coming through! Determined. Determined to escape. Out of the drudgery of this chaos. This disaster! Pushing, shoving. Mind drifts off, recalls fresh air, I’m struck with a tinge of regret for having taken it for granted. When it was there, all around me. I hardly acknowledged it. Now I miss it. I want it. I can’t see it, feel it, but I know it exists. Ducking down and burrowing through legs, trying to balance as I push through the darkness below the bodies. Knocked over, kicked. Fingers smashed. Jump to my feet quick. I’ll be trampled. No one will notice. No one ever notices. Everyone focused on themselves. No one notices anyone else. No one is significant. No one exists. Except for action and reaction of bodies crashing into one another there would be no meaningful interaction. Nothing sincere. No authenticity. No solidarity. Humanity is a falsehood. A fairy tale. Concern for others only goes as far as what can be gained. Then abruptly abandoned.

Longing for closeness. Not proximity but intimacy. Connection. Satiated from artificial and manufactured imitations. Fed up. Filled up. Sick to death. Giving up, giving in, succumbing to this world? Not even a consideration. Doesn’t even enter my mind. I don’t know what’s out there. What’s outside this crowd of insignificant people bumping into each other, but I know without a doubt, there is something. Force pushes me forward, into more people. Sweat drips into my eyes. Salty. Blurry. Stings. Wiping my face with the back of my soggy sleeve I push forward. Sweat bleeding through my shirt brings with it moments of relief. As I push through the crowd bursts of musty air collide with my skin and a coolness rests upon me. Gratitude washes over me. Refreshing. Rousing me forward. Onward. It’s deep, deep down. IT. It’s propelling me forward. An unexplained drive to continue. Self-preservation maybe? Even so, why? What’s driving this perseverance? No one knows I exist. Who would care? Why keep going? Why keep trying? Where is this coming from? Mind washes out. Thoughts evaporate. There is something. Something up ahead.

Can’t quite make it out but a burst of excitement explodes in my chest. I breathe in a bounty of dank air and lunge forward. Full speed ahead. Coming through! The people in the crowd meld into the background as I fix my eyes on an opening. A hinged gate, a portal. I see it more clearly as I wipe the sweat from my eyes. It’s there. Not far off now. Umph! The wind is knocked out of me as I slam into someone or something. I pay no mind. Rise. Keep going. Almost there. As I approach, good spills into my head. I don’t know what’s out there. It could be worse than this. It could be another crowd of invisible people bumping into each other. It could be a dead end. But my mind won’t consider that. My mind flushes those thoughts out and floods my brain with images of color. Light. Space. Not outer space, personal space. Freedom. Air. Sweet and clean. Crisp and fresh. Inhale as I position my foot to take my last step out of the messy crowd. No looking back. Pause. Hesitation. Acknowledge this moment. Whatever is on the other side, declare the end of this chapter. The birth of a new. Reach out. Push open the gate. Step out. Out of the darkness. Into this new place.

Noise fades. Off into the distance. Replaced with quiet. Calm. Takes a few moments to orient my mind. Like jumping on a trampoline then climbing off onto the solid ground. Legs wobbly. Sunshine covers my face like a gentle veil. Walk further, at a marked different pace from that of my fight through the crowd. Notice, no crunches or slushes under my feet. Instead, a cushion of green grass. So vibrant I can smell the shade of green. Trees in the distance and flowers of all colors splashed along either side of me. My hand falls to my side as I walk. Fingertips dust the petals. Breathing slows. Calms. Chest rises, inhale. That fragrance, unfamiliar but I know the bouquet. That is LIFE and TRUTH. My senses awaken. Tears fill my eyes as I drop to my knees. Overwhelming, all-consuming, gratitude washes over me. A smile stretches across my upturned face. Arms raised. Palms up. Sobbing now. Tears of immense joy stream down my weathered and sooty cheeks. To heaven, exponentially aware. Kneeling. Silent. Thankful. Grateful. Humbled. In awe. Deep breathes pull in the goodness. Washing out all the bad. It’s all back there. On the other side. I am the only person here but I am not alone. I am less lonely than I have ever been. A closeness I can’t articulate invades me. A warmth. Not like the sun on my skin but heavier. Softer. Safer. Authentic. Honest. Safe. Pure. Permanent. A warmth fills me up from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. Love. Unadulterated, undiluted, concentrated, thickened, love. Unconditional. Unearned. Undeserved. Love.

The force that picked me up when I fell, the creator of my body’s natural mechanisms, the guide leading me out of the dark. God. I may be invisible to everyone on Earth. Inconsequential. Insignificant. Common. But to my father in heaven I am set apart. I am the one whom Jesus loves. I am my father’s daughter! He kept me moving forward because he has plans for me. To prosper me. For good and not harm. He sees in me what I am unable to see in myself. He knows my future and he used my past to strengthen me and equip me, to fulfill his will over my life. But by his grace and mercy have I stumbled, tattered and bruised, out of the dark. Suffering behind but never forgotten. My scars don my body like championship medals. Recognition. The rights to a testimony in the making. Artifacts that prove HIS love. Into the light. Not simply walking in it. Part of it. It overtakes me, wrapping into the fold. But by HIS amazing grace I am here. But for HIS love I …… To be continued.

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” – 1 Corinthians 15:10 (NIV)