Ames Street is a short street that goes from the main road down to the ocean in the Lanesville area of Gloucester. I wouldn’t ever have known about Ames Street if it weren’t for a memory from long ago.
It was a grey August day many years ago. The ocean was stormy, waves rising high and falling hard, their spray reaching far above their peak. The sky was deep grey, only a couple of shades lighter than the rocky coast. The Autumn season was beginning to invade the air and we smelled it, a fact that was strange because we hadn’t lived in a place where there was Autumn in over eleven years.
My husband and I had never been on Ames Street before. We knew the area only as occasional tourists. This time we weren’t tourists, instead we were there looking for a house to rent. We had arrived from Cairo, Egypt with five kids, 26 suitcases, and a cat, and we needed a place to settle all of these. The ad in the paper said that there was a cottage on Ames Street –a seasonal rental that was completely furnished so we wouldn’t have the extra expenses of purchasing beds, dressers, chairs, and tables.
The unpaved driveway was long and bumpy. We reached the main house first; a mansion with many doors and windows. To the right was the cottage, clearly built for the servants of days gone by. We parked our bright red van and slowly walked toward the door. Both of us were lost in our own thoughts. It had been two months since we left Cairo and our lives had been in chaos for those two months. Jobs, housing, schooling – nothing had worked out as we planned. It was all up in the air.
A woman met us at the door and explained the situation. It was a nine month rental, from September through May. The cottage was small and I immediately tensed up, wondering how we could all fit and live cohesively together for the next nine months. Still, it was on the ocean and that would be a gift. But as I looked through the cottage, an acute sense of loss and loneliness filled my heart. I couldn’t believe we were actually in the United States. I couldn’t believe that I would be settling a family of five children into life in the western world. I was scared beyond believability. We went through the house quickly, asking questions as we walked through the four rooms.
We exchanged phone numbers and then left. As we drove away we were each lost in our thoughts. What had we done? Why had we left Egypt? How was this all going to work out?
We didn’t end up renting the house and I wouldn’t have even remembered this day, except that a couple of months ago we drove past Ames Street.
All these memories emerged from a street sign.
I remembered the deep sense of loss and longing for our old life. I remembered the palpable fear of a new beginning in the United States. I remembered the unknown, the newness of everything, the anxiety about the future. I remember the sense of being on shaky ground; like an earthquake where you don’t remember where to go, and instead stand paralyzed, wondering when the tremors will stop.
Our hopes and plans for the future were all focused on living overseas. We never imagined that this would change, never imagined that our dreams would have to change, that our plans would have to shift. It was a death of expectations. It was the death of our life as we knew it. It was the death of a dream.
If someone had asked us what we had left behind, we would have said “Everything. We left everything behind.”
We left in faith and obedience. We knew that this was right — the right thing to do and the right time to do it. But that didn’t make it easy. Until that time we honestly and naïvely believed that when you do things in obedience, for the right reasons, there are immediate rewards. We thought that everything would quickly fall into place, that we would quickly be settling into, and dare I say enjoying, our new life. All because of obedience. But faith and obedience don’t work that way. The fine print in most Biblical accounts tells a story of faith, in spite of uncertainty; of faith even when the way is cloudy and foggy. I tended to stop reading Hebrews 11 at verse 12, because if I read the next verse, it would take me to a place I’d rather not go: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”
Years ago, Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote this about his faith: “It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.”
I used to think that faith and obedience would lead to immediate rewards; but now I think that faith and obedience are a long walk in the dark.
I lived in a furnace of doubt during that time of my life; what I didn’t know was that my hosanna would be raised strong and loud because of it. And of this I am sure: I would not have the faith I have today, had I not experienced the doubt of yesterday.
Faith doesn’t grow through predictability; faith doesn’t blossom in the known. Faith grows when you continue walking in the dark, certain of nothing, full of doubt, but walking anyway.
“But clarity and certainty are not the soil in which faith grows, and had Abraham had more advance notice from God, he may never have become the man whose faith was credited to him as righteousness, a faith that was honest enough to admit to God his doubts, yet a faith resilient enough to wait on divine timing. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). We please God, not by gymnastic feats of pious religion: we please him as we begin actively trusting, in the midst of our struggle, that he is good.“*
As we drove past Ames Street, the memory twisted and turned in my mind like the road we were driving on. Ames Street feels like a lifetime ago – a different time, a different place. But with a surety that I didn’t think possible I can declare that God was faithful. God is faithful. Those words are so big, so strong, so hard to say – because sometimes I’d like to believe that he isn’t. Sometimes I’d like to blame him, forget him, or walk away. But I find that would be as impossible as it would be to walk away from the air that I breathe.
Madeleine L’Engle in a Circle of Quiet wrote this “A winter ago I had an after-school seminar for high-school students and in one of the early sessions Una, a brilliant fifteen-year-old, a born writer who came to Harlem from Panama five years ago, and only then discovered the conflict between races, asked me, ‘Mrs. Franklin, do you really and truly believe in God with no doubts at all?’ ‘Oh, Una, I really and truly believe in God with all kinds of doubts.’ But I base my life on this belief.”
*Excerpt from Excerpt from Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition and the Life of Faith, by Jen Pollock Michel. See more at: http://www.judydouglass.com/2014/05/struggle-surrender-guest-post-jen-pollock-michel/#sthash.N3Sc5ZLT.dpuf