Well darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable
And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety ’til I sank it
I’m crawling on your shores

— Indigo Girls

I like the pillows on my couch and bed to be arranged in a particular manner. If you don’t know this information, then allow me to introduce myself because we clearly have not met. Which means you probably also haven’t met my children, whose favorite activity other than asking me questions about zombies seems to be disrupting my pillow patterns. My older son in particular takes great joy in grabbing the pillows and throwing them into the air, squealing as they fall to the floor, their order a distant memory and my sanity hanging by a thread. It’s like he knows.

When I was pregnant with him, and we chose the name James, it wasn’t in honor of the book of the Bible most associated with earning salvation, nor was it a nod to whom my husband Jason thought Joey should have ended up with (#teampacey all the way for me), and we hadn’t even looked up the meaning of the name. But it turns out that “The Supplanter” would be a great subtitle for any progeny, coming along as they all do to upend your former plans in favor of new…different ones. Kind of like the one in whose image they (and we) are made.

I’ve been assured by the writer Francis Frangipane that “rescue is the constant pattern of God’s activity,” but it’s annoying how close I’ve had to come to drowning — literally and figuratively — to believe that. As I relate in the book I co-authored, my last relationship before I ended up with Jason nearly killed me (we’re in the literal column now, FYI) when I went on a canoeing trip with that boyfriend and some friends and attempted to travel in a current that would have, had I not fought it, brought me safely back to the rock where our group sat. Instead, I tried to help said current and ended up eye-level with a river that nearly took me under for good. Then there was the time in New York when an explosion near my office left a group of us racing down flights of stairs, out of the building, and down Lexington Avenue for our lives before finally discovering, along with everyone else packed onto the streets, that the explosion we heard was not an attack but an electrical mishap. In both instances, my life seemingly hanging in the balance, I felt — along with terror — a peace that passes understanding, that told me I would ultimately be okay. It didn’t form my faith, but it sure helped out with my doubt.

You could say that my inattention to grace for awhile made me credit it with simply making cameos in my life, though I look back now and realise it was always a series regular: when I was drowning in misery in high school, my parents found a way to allow me to transfer my senior year. When I was a dental resident stuck in a bad relationship (see above) and failing professionally, I somehow graduated and ended up one thousand miles away on an island called Manhattan, where I found a church and friends and husband. When I thought we were settled as a family in our home across from a creek in Atlanta, grace moved us across the world to a beach — not the American one we’d had in mind but the one we apparently were meant for anyway, in Sydney. In each case, and so many others, life was found on the other side of what felt like death…exile…shipwreck.

In the first Toy Story, after Buzz Lightyear manages a lucky tumble through the air, Woody sighs that he wasn’t flying. Later in the movie Buzz echoes Woody’s earlier criticism when they are tossed skyward in an attempt to be reunited with Andy and the other toys, declaring, “We aren’t flying; we’re falling…with style.” I wish I could be more like Buzz in my own doubts and failures, or like Paul, who in Acts 27, lets the fellow prisoners and their guards on the boat know that they should be brave because, despite the storms they’re facing, they won’t die. He then (hilariously, to me) finishes with, “Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.”

Were I on that boat, I likely would have met Paul’s nonchalant prophecy of doom with a “what the HELL, dude?!” shriek in his faithful little face. Judging from how I deal with tossed pillows, I know that being met with news of my imminent shipwreck wouldn’t lead me straight into praise songs. I prefer a way around, not through, destruction, be it that of ships or pillows. Shipwreck is not my rescue of choice, but it seems to be one in which I keep encountering God anyway: the shipwrecks on the shores of miscarriage, of a child’s autism diagnosis, of extended singlehood, of unbelief, of moves across the world. And the grace that accompanies me through is always evident when we are met with new life on the other side: a second son, the older son’s breathtaking progress, a solid marriage, deep friendships.

But what if those specific outcomes weren’t waiting on the other side? What of children who never speak, or reproductive systems that never kick into gear, of blind dates that never end, of diagnoses that lead to gravesides? What are we to do with a God who calls himself Emmanuel but remains, for all literal purposes, invisible?

A friend’s brother committed suicide a few years ago and, desperate to tidy up the mess with words of encouragement, I wrote to him of how God could use this to show people his glory one day. Ugh, I know — this was, like, the week after it happened. I may as well have sent him a needlepoint wall hanging that read “Everything happens for a reason!” And, to his credit, he gently replied that he knew that could be true but he wasn’t in a place to hear it right now — there was just too much hurt in this moment.

I think about that often: about those moments of grief or despair, of drowning, in which platitudes will only weigh us down. We need good news — the Gospel — to be oxygen, not flowers, in those moments.

My older son — the one (of two) who likes to upend all my plans, aka contrivances for security — he just started second grade and, in an echo of his mother across the decades, uses the first few bedtimes of the school year to let out every emotion, particularly the sad ones. We’ve had many conversations about how he just wants me to stay — to be there with him, waiting just outside the classroom if necessary, so that he can feel safe and protected. This despite the fact that he has a wonderful therapist and a dream of a teacher (this year).

I tell him, every time, that I am with him even if he can’t see me because our hearts are connected. I tell him he is safe and protected already. I tell him that, beyond and more important than me, he has God in his heart taking care of him. “But I can’t see God!” he wails, every time. “How do I know he’s there?”

And I’m stuck, sort of shipwrecked in that place where he’s young enough that my faith has to supplement his, where all I can do is keep telling him what I have found to be true and what, after enough shipwrecks of his own (I can hardly stand the thought), he will also know to be true: that I know it beyond what I can see; that hands have lifted me out of water, literally and figuratively, and put me back on land. That I know because I have been in the kind of trouble that isn’t helped by a simple carrying, Footprints-style, but requires full resuscitation. That I wasn’t the same person after that resuscitation. And that God has never left. That even (and trust me, we ain’t getting into this yet, but someday we’ll have to) when the goodbye is final I know because I believe that there is something on the other side: because of all the little deaths I’ve known (mainly of my own autonomy), I know that even death itself is the closest thing to life because it is what happens just before rebirth.

Or, to put it like that smug shipwreck expert Paul:

“Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises from the dead?”