Uphill With Jonathan, Or Not
Morning cloud cover and a brief respite from our steam sauna summer gave Nick and I the courage to venture out on a neighborhood walk with Jonathan. Since we live at the base of Bull Run Mountain, this involves some hilly terrain, but we’ve done this one before, Successfully! (Oh, the perils of optimism….) Things go moderately well. Until the last uphill climb. Plunking down in the middle of the road is Jonathan’s unmistakeable, “I’m tired” cue. As quickly as we can we rassle him out of harm’s way over to the end of someone’s driveway. “Rassle” because he is using every bit of his strength to resist. Feeling a bit awkward about setting up camp within eyeshot of the a stranger’s house, I let him rest a few moments, then prod him to move on. Which we do. For 2 yards. Sitting progresses to lying down mid-road as he successfully out-maneuvers any attempts to get him moving.
Seriously, he might’ve been born in the wrong era. Imagine the career he could had as a 60’s passive protester? Anyway, a few more episodes like this, with the help of a little song (“Marching, marching, Jonathan is marching. Marching, marching, marching up the hill!”), pushing from behind and tugging from up front (would it be terribly insensitive to allude to a mule at this point?) we make it!! Whew! The rest of the walk is all downhill. I watch with pleasure from behind--Jonathan and his faithful Daddy hand in hand. Jonathan’s gait and body type are easily identifiable to those who know Down syndrome. To me that “look” is dear. (I saw a young man at a distance once, and with a rush of sweet familiarity knew before the special needs bus pulled up that he was another one of God’s special ones.)
It’s the uphill part I’ve been mulling over. I persisted because I had no choice. By the time we got to the top though, I was nearly spent. It was somewhat concerning - we are both in reasonably good shape, but we’re not getting any younger, and Jonathan’s strength is formidable. Just ask any of his helpers or teachers. Dwelling on that situation could definitely progress to a worrying set of “what if’s” about the future. Whether I sensed God’s presence or not, though, God was with us. He gave us what we needed.
I find comfort in this tender word. “For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:13) He understands that it’s not just the task itself that daunts, but the fear that anticipates or accompanies those uphill climbs. “What if I can’t do this?” “I made it this time, but what about next time….and the next?” His reassurance is personal - he takes my hand. One lovely thing about walking with Jonathan--inevitably he reaches for my hand and holds it as we walk. His actions speak what his words cannot - “I trust you. I want to be with you.” The fellowship of those silent moments is incredibly sweet.
But as I ponder this verse, I’m also chastising myself. I should be focusing more on Jesus in these kinds of situations. If I know this verse why do I still feel down in the dumps? Then I remember - “Yeah, though I walk through the valley…” I’ve got this completely backwards. It is my very neediness that moves God to compassion. He wouldn’t need to help me if I didn’t need his help! And he doesn’t expect me to “buck up” ahead of time because I know He cares for me. That would be the ultimate arrogance - strength apart from God’s strength - actually a fiction.
God isn’t surprised or threatened by my fears. He comes to me because He sees me. In all my short-sightedness and lack of faith. He takes my hand. He walks beside me. He promises to help. Realizing afresh the reality of my loving heavenly Father does a 180 on my perspective. After some weeks of tenacious, tearful heaviness, feeling overwhelmed on several fronts, I think I might just be getting it.
God’s promise is to be there with me. And what can’t I do if He’s by my side? What can’t I do if He holds my hand? If He helps me? What more do I need than His presence? The writer of this old hymn captures it better than I can:
I need Thee every hour
Most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine
Can peace afford
I need Thee, oh, I need Thee
Every hour I need Thee
Oh, bless me now my Savior!
I come to Thee