Friends, I believe I told you that in the summer of 1977 I literally dragged both my wife and my 5-year-old daughter, Alejandra, all the way from Buenos Aires to Dallas for postgraduate studies at Southern Methodist University. Only 3, 4 years max in the US, and then back to home, we told our families as we were leaving Argentina — as you can see, almost 50 years later we’re still here!
We stayed, and eventually became residents, but as years went by, we often wondered about becoming American citizens. Not an issue with our second child, Natalia, for she was born in Texas. As for Alejandra, sometime during her college years she became a very proud American citizen.
What about Mom and Dad? Well, we kept postponing because the process implies forms, fees, and anxious waiting. Besides, even though we had nothing to hide, the process also implied uncertainty, and even risks. Had I ever opened my big mouth to say or do anything politically incorrect in college or seminary? Had anyone ever reported me, mistakenly, as a “communist”?
You never know . . . Besides, our tiny apartment in Buenos Aires was four or five houses away from Che Guevara’s! And what about my brothers, both political prisoners in those days for having challenged the most repressive military junta ever in our country? Terrorists of freedom fighters? What would Uncle Sam say about that? And what about me? Guilty by association? Thus, we kept postponing, and when ready, we took turns, just in case –mom first, dad later.
I’ll never forget the excitement the day I got a letter from Immigrations –soon I could vote; soon I could finally feel like belonging here; soon I could get rid of my accent, and for good! Yet, excitement kept mixing with anxiety and fear –what if something goes wrong and I get deported? Just in case you can’t comprehend such a feeling, you imagine for a moment a letter from the IRS — “Hey, Mr. or Ms. such and such, we need to talk. Come over, bring all your paperwork, we are going to audit you!”
As the day approached, I started having nightmares – recurring nightmares about scary giants chasing after me. One of my nightmares had a huge bus color orange and flashing lights parked right by the Immigration fortress, ready to bring me to JKF. And that’s when I started paying serious attention to scary giants — the many things huge and ugly that arise in life, uninvited, ready to harm us and steal our hopes away. Which is what they did to my brother, Claudio, literally consumed from his early teens by a severe depression. Four years as a political prisoner did not help him at all.
Very much like “perfect storms,” giants overwhelm us as they lurch in the stillness of our spiritual and emotional seas. Storms that arrive suddenly, quite often during a perfectly calm and blissful afternoon. Storms that create waves ten stories high and winds of 120 miles an hour, storms that no one will ever survive. And when those storms happen, we all know how much damage fear can cause –Jesus’s disciples soon found out!
I have known folks who are afraid of getting into an elevator. Others are afraid of just driving around. Others dread speaking in public, even praying in a small group setting, while still others are terrified by the thought that they may get cancer at any moment. Some folks dread being alone. Others worry and fret about losing their jobs or staying home with an abusive spouse.
And what about the many others who must fight daily against storms and giants of addiction, war, discrimination, or corporate cruelty? There are many giants around us! And fear can lead to paralysis – which is what happened with Jesus’s disciples that day at the lake. Which is what happened to King Saul and his army when the mighty Philistines tried to destroy Israel for good.
The Philistines had their own giant, remember? A killing machine, a tower-like man named Goliath – so mean, so scary. And everybody froze with panic, except for David – just a teenager, not a professional warrior, just a teenager shepherd. But his armor and strength were from God!
You remember this incident’s happy ending – don’t you? How David aimed his sling to Goliath’s only eye, how the giant died even before collapsing on the dust, how the Philistine army run away for good. How did you do it, David? What was you secret?
I want to believe that David simply responded – “The trick is to gain a perspective on the danger we are in, and to understand and trust that God is able to help us, and then, storm the giant –Jesus would later say, ‘storm the storm’.” For God has power over ugly giants, also over the wind and the waves!
David showed King Samuel and everybody else what a liberating thing is to let go of our fears and to let God, to trust God to make things come our right instead of worrying about how we are going to make it happen or how we are going to fix everything on our own. With such an armor, how big or strong or clever we are, it doesn’t matter that much. It’s God’s power that makes the difference, my friends.
That’s the same lesson Jesus taught his frightened disciples in the lake – “Why are you afraid? Will you never let go and let God?” And then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves – and the storm went away.
Many years after his victory over the giant killer, David sung a psalm about fear and trust: Even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for you are with me, and your shepherd’s rod and staff comfort me. If today’s scriptures teach us anything, they teach us that God has been our help in times past –and for that reason he can be trusted to be our help today and tomorrow as well.
As we continue our Lenten journey with Jesus we may wonder, how did he confront his giants and storms? And what about the faithful women disciples who never left him, not even around the cross? Those women we have been talking about in our Bible study this past week –women disciples that never gave up on Jesus, who would eventually become one of the strongest pillars of the emerging Christian church.
What was their secret? Quite simply, neither Jesus nor those women ran away from giants or storms. Jesus stood up and confronted them all –and so did those formidable women disciples.
Now, in all honesty, we must admit that sometimes giants and storms are so traumatic and brutal, that even if our faith remains intact, so to speak, we may end up so deeply wounded and disoriented, we don’t know how to stand up. I’ll try to help a little.
During my days as a substitute teacher, I learned that schools have a few classrooms with a unique place in them where students with special needs can go for a break when they are feeling overwhelmed or fearful about a situation. It’s called a “safe place.” Located in a quiet part of the classroom, where the creative use of furniture enhances the illusion of isolation by providing a barrier between the kids in that space and other kids in the large room.
Something like a “safe place” of the soul and the mind works for me, for sometimes I don’t know how to react, where to begin. Where to find perspective and courage to confront my own giants and my own storms the way David, Jesus, Mary of Magdala, Joshua, Esther, Peter, Mary the mother of Jesus, Paul, and many others to this day, confronted their own storms.
But I have that “safe place” somewhere in the quietness of my soul where I can take refuge under God’s wings. Where I find comfort, peace, and joy. Where God can reassure me time and again that indeed “He is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble and tribulation,” as David sings in one of his psalms. (Ps. 46).
The Upper Room meditation for today brings us full circle to Joshua, chapter 3: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
And to this humble closing prayer: “Dear God, give us courage to face our fears and to trust that with your help, we can move forward –one step at the time. Amen.”
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