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Over the Falls

Letting go was what I most wanted. But in order for that to happen, I had to stop controlling everything and allow myself to go over the metaphorical falls.

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Two autumns ago, our world unraveled. My husband’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died. Our youngest son took a helmet to the neck in a football game and spent the next four weeks convalescing. I ran over someone’s dog. Our neighbor fell off his porch, broke his neck, and died. We left our church due to an intractable conflict and we brought bed bugs home from a hotel. It was the most difficult season of our adult lives.

Obviously, when we flipped the calendar from October to November, it wasn’t as if everything suddenly turned around. Sizable checks were written to the bed bug sniffing beagle and the man who baked our house to 140 degrees. We had a bereaved neighbor and family members to support and new jobs to be found. Our emotions swirled and eddied, swiftly heading for one precipitous drop after another.

On the way to leaving our eldest at college — and just before all of the calamity hit — we visited Niagara Falls. Normally, I find water soothing and comforting but not there; the speed and the sheer force of the water as it plunged down those 160 feet terrified me. Niagara Falls is symbolic of how utterly out of control life can be. It was a prophetic pit stop though we did not know it at the time.

Perhaps part of why I had such a negative visceral reaction to Niagara Falls is that I like to be in control. When I was a young child, I discovered that controlling my body and my emotions (and others whenever possible) diminished my fears and insecurities. For example, classmates teased me relentlessly because of my cavernous dimples. It didn’t take me long to conclude, “If people tease me when I smile me and I don’t like how it feels to be teased, I’ll stop smiling.” This and other such choices worked flawlessly but resulted in a lifestyle that necessitated relentlessly monitoring and controlling every thought and facial expression for the explicit purpose of avoiding humiliation, shame, or someone’s anger.

And then Jesus showed up and messed with my modus operandi. Passages such as, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it” (Luke 17:33), made it increasingly obvious that I had to face my fear of being out of control and learn to trust God as well as those unpredictable human beings.

Embedded habits are difficult to extricate. Though I desired to follow the ways of Jesus, I continued to assume that successful relationships were contingent upon my not disappointing or angering anyone. Fifteen years into this faith venture, God began to disassemble my spin machine by helping me to understand that I was actually manipulating my friends and family by only allowing them to see me from a favorable vantage point.

I didn’t willingly sign up this graduate level lesson. It happened during a time when we had three sons under the age of six and my husband worked three jobs. I was tired, angry, lonely, and increasingly unhappy. While praying (venting, more likely) one morning, I sensed God asking me a question: “What would it look like for you to let go?” I remember actually gasping and then a second later, sobbing uncontrollably.

Letting go was what I most wanted. I wanted to stop being perfect. To stop getting it right. To stop being the one who solved everyone’s problems and fixed everything that broke. I wanted the freedom to fall apart in public, even to have smudgy black mascara under my eyes and not worry about how others perceived me. But in order for that to happen, I had to stop trying to control everything and allow myself to go over the metaphorical falls.

Despite the fact that I have successfully plummeted (successful meaning I did not die) more than once, I occasionally turn and frantically swim in the opposite direction of the cascade. Striving for perfection comes more naturally than living vulnerably. But sometimes — like the autumn from hell — I have no choice; the current is simply too powerful and I am too weak. In those moments and seasons when I can’t grab a low hanging branch to stop the inevitable, I grab hold of Scripture:

So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for He will never fail you. (1 Peter 4:19)

Now, rather than fighting to prevent myself from falling, I fight to believe these words, because someday, I’m convinced that I might actually enjoy the ride.

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Dorothy Littell Greco works as a photographer, writer, and speaker. Her passion is helping others find their way through this sometimes confusing world. She and her husband have three sons and one daughter-in-law. You can find more of Dorothy’s work on her website or by following her on Twitter (@dorothygreco) or Facebook.

11 Comments
  • Thank you, Dorothy: I really appreciate this post, especially the fact that you’re sharing from the perspective of 2 years after a time that sounds so difficult. I lost my mom to cancer less than six weeks ago; today one of my parents’ closest friends will be buried after having a stroke last week. I have a work project coming up that will probably mean I need to resolve a long-standing conflict with a co-worker/friend; I’m not sure I have what it takes to do that. Actually I’m sure I do NOT have what it takes — so your encouragement to trust God through suffering and know that He will never fail is exactly what I needed to hear today.

    • Jeannie, Thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment. I am sorry for your loss. May He sustain and strengthen you in the midst of your raging waters. Blessings.

  • These are words that give strength to feeble knees. Thank you.

  • This is such a beautiful reminder. Thank you!

  • Sheila Reeder

    Thank you again for the beautiful reminder. I think I struggle every day at some level with letting go of “being perfect” – perfectionism is a harsh taskmaster. But just reading your post, reflecting on the last 5 years I can see how much I have let go and I am so thankful for reminders like this that push me to keep letting go – because there is nothing easy about it! That verse from 1 Peter hit me in a new way today. Wow! Continued blessings to you Dorothy!

    • Sheila, Sometimes I wonder if I have an unrealistic expectation of myself on this. Sort of being a perfectionist about letting go of perfectionism. I want to be done but my guess is it’s going to be a life-time lesson. Bless you across the miles!

  • When Dad described the place where we were going to be moving, he described the cataract — Niagara Falls — not the city near and in which I would grow up. I had nightmares before we moved. I measured wherever I was in terms of its distance from the observation area near the American brink — that one day crumbled and fell into the gorge. We became a family tourist destination with Dad as tour guide so I got to know a lot about the geography and history, but I struggled with my suppressed terror among our relatives. It got worse when the Girl Scouts helped with the Maid of the Mist festival and I heard the perhaps untrue lore that Native girls were sacrificed to its thunder. I knew a Native lady and was horrified trying to imagine what would lead anyone to harm Louise, her children, or their ancestors. Their vulnerability made me more vulnerable. I heard that bodies were regularly found below the falls and along the river. I read about all the daredevils who tried to “beat” the Falls and usually failed. In high school, a friend who lived up-river invited us for a swimming party. For the first time I felt the strength of the river, even a couple of miles above the upper rapids. I was just strong enough to swim back to the dock and I did not repeat the risk although my stronger classmates seemed unafraid. I did not trust them. My fears were not only for my weakness but from not trusting others. Your insights apply equally to my lack of trust of others, and of God to answer my prayers for them.

    • Laurna, Thank you for this vulnerable offering. (And I’m somehow heartened to learn that I am not the only person who feared this place!) I’d be curious to hear whether you have returned as an adult and what your reactions were. Many blessings, Dorothy

      • As I have not remained in the area, my mental defenses against the implicit dangers of the Niagara River Gorge are as poor as when I was ten years old. Five years ago I returned for the 50th anniversary of HS graduation; I let my husband take the scenic walk along the river without me! Accompanying us as tourists, our two youngest sons–Dan recently
        recovered from ten years of schizophrenia–were separated from my
        husband and from me (and us from one another) on the Canadian side above the Falls. I would have
        preferred to be anywhere else, of course, and when they went missing I
        was frantic. How vulnerable was Dan to the hypnotic attraction of that rushing water? How strong was his self-control? Eventually,
        we found one another. The guys were happy to have enjoyed time apart from their parents — which of course is entirely normal.
        Except that for years Dan was the furthest thing from normal. They
        both had the pleasure of looking patronizingly on my fretting with gracious and
        lordly disdain. Such a joy to know Dan had gained the same mental stability as his brother.

        However, I also saw a dear friend who may lack that kind of stability. She has contemplated stepping into the river, although she is a Christian and has no history like our son Dan. She had a career elsewhere and returned to our hometown in retirement. She has long relied on a commonly prescribed medication that I consider addictive and damaging. Last September, I returned for the 55th. I had wonderful time reconnecting with people but avoided the river although moonlight on the rough water was a view many (including my friend) wanted to enjoy from the balcony-terrace of the the hotel dining room. When I lost my sense of direction the first night, ending up in an industrial area where it could have been dangerous to leave my car, I also was aware of my proximity to the river. I used the distant illumination of the cataract as a landmark to find my way back to my friend’s house.

        She had been hospitalized the day I arrived — as it turned out, through her doctor misinterpreting a readout from her ECG. According to the specialist, the machine must have malfunctioned. (Or the doctor?) Although my friend is enviably fit, she was given “end of life counseling” and asked whether she wanted to be revived if the phantasm of a heart attack turned into a reality. She decided she did not. She is single and has no close family nearby. What role does her medication play in her lack of optimism? I wonder if the river has been an undercurrent in her thinking all her life? I met other friends whose tremendous faith, deeply satisfying experiences, difficulties met triumphantly with Jesus, and intense interest in and caring for others — 50 years of living packed into short stories — inspired me. I doubt the nearby Falls offers a treacherous temptation to them. If my friend had a different doctor who offered different advice and medicines might she, too, be more optimistic about what life still has to offer?

        Thanks for bringing up these memories, Dorothy. I think it’s time I picked up the phone and called her.

        • Laurna, I don’t know whether to say a simple thanks for sharing so vulnerably or I’m sorry for stirring things up for you! Either way, I do hope that God uses this and your willingness to dig in to bring more healing. (Hope you got through to your friend and it was a blessed conversation.) Blessings, D

          • I don’t mind the stirring; I think we are supposed to fear and be in awe of some things. Nature, to which your amazing photos draw us more closely, speaks of the awful and awesome nature of God — not only in the contemplative gaze into the heart of a blossom or a jewel dewdrop but in the overwhelming forces that provide your metaphors for the trials of life. I did reach my friend and the timing of that call was awesome, too. Profound thanks for the Spirit in your words and images.

Articles

When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.

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“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.

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Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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Over the Falls

by Dorothy Greco time to read: 3 min
11