The Ascent
Jarek Pucsel

Jarek Pucsel

Carolyn Shields

It was a steep slope and the gravel was loose beneath her feet. She had been falling for months, if not years, slipping and cascading, scrambling and at times free falling. She was fighting the fall, screaming as she clutched at the spraying roots, damning the voids, and crying for help. But maybe this valley was where He was leading her, and she made a promise to follow, didn't she?

Eventually, she finally allowed herself to stop fighting and to crash to the bottom. It was a deep, dark pit, with little light and an overwhelming sense of being terribly and excruciatingly alone. She crunched to the bottom and couldn't move.

He didn't catch her either. I think He wanted it to hurt because sometimes pain speaks to us so much louder than comfort.

For a while, she allowed her to lay there, buried alive. Her face gritted into the gravel, there was barely any strength in her to arise...she struggled to find anything within her, though she knew because she is so inadequate, so unremarkably average, she is called to. To rise, I mean. Because that's who He calls. She's not sure she could have at that moment even if she wanted to though.

But as we are told in Ezekiel 37, He binds our bones and sinews, He takes everything that makes us feel dead to the world, He reaches deep into those graves, and makes the fatal into new life within us.

But then, the only light in that gorge, the very only thing that convinced her to move an eyelid, to peak up from her rock pillow, was the light that radiated from Him. He curled down beside her and draped an arm over her. He found her and He stayed.

Hey. He stayed.

He never wants us to be alone. He never intended for us to feel it.

He didn't say anything but His presence was felt. That presence was everything.

Eventually, He coaxed her to roll over, when she was ready, and eventually she pulled herself up and they sat together. Most of the time when we are knocked to our feet, we are expected to get right back up and keep on fighting, but He knew she was a little weakling. She needed time to stay low.

And that's why He sent her to Uganda.

He wanted to show her the stars, there, just south of the equator where He painted foreign constellations in the sky, stories not from the ancients of mythological gods, but of expeditions seeking truth in science, discoveries embedded in telescopes and compasses, pieces we once used to find ourselves, to understand where we are, or where we believed we were lost. How far away from home we were.

So they sat there and looked. And still He said nothing.

The tears rolled from the valleys He carved on her face, the canyons around her nose that became a watershed, and the tear ducts and nostrils mimicked waterfalls. She was so fearful. Of this newfound love. Damnit, why would he create something so powerful? And place something so beautiful in a wrecked soul like hers? One that doesn't even have the strength to stand. Not yet, anyway. Why would he make it hurt this much. Why would He be here with her with all of her soiled wounds and her expired heart, spending so much time just sitting there beside her as she dared the stars.

And then everything became so silent, and it was her turn to be with Him. It was her turn to say nothing. And their silence was profound. The healing had begun.

It was cold in the valley, but she didn't want to leave. This rock bottom, this solid ground was so far from where she was years ago. It would be a long, arduous journey to climb out of it, and He was content with just sitting with her for now. He waited for her. He didn't pressure her. They just stargazed. They were together.

And then, undramatically or unromantically, so casually normal or whatever, she told Him one day that she was ready. He stood up and didn't bother shaking the grime and grit from his immaculate robes. But He offered His hand.

It was punctured with a nail she'd forgotten she'd driven into it long ago. God, they had such a long journey before them.

But He gave her a promise. So she accepted his hand, never breaking eye contact. Not a word spoken but the plea was undeniable in her yearning look, please don't leave me, and His response radiated another promising gaze. So many promises. She thinks, if she remembers correctly, there was even an upward curve in one corner of his lips. They were about to partake in a beautiful journey together. His fingers tightened around hers, and He helped her rise to her feet.

So they took that first step together, and they are on the ascent now, Him and her.

But it only took a few weeks into it that they faced one of their darkest nights together, and maybe momentarily she believed she had lost Him, but He picked up her passed out, drunken self curled up in a garden downtown. There was a brutal storm that was wrecking havoc within her that night, weighing her down with shame and another battle with fear and pain.

That was the first time that she saw Him angry.

He set His brow and stiffened His jaw and breathed in angrily through his flaring nostrils, calling upon His Father for help, and recognizing the work of our Enemy.

And then He carried her.

So it was together, just Him, and just her, in those shadows, that they rebeheld the stars.

And together, they are rising.