On the Edge

A few months back, when describing how I felt at the time, I said it was like being stripped to studs. That happens to houses sometimes, to rooms specifically, when the easiest way to get things how you want them is to take down all the drywall and tear up the floor down to the sub-flooring. You get down to the studs, throwing out everything else, so that you can do everything fresh: fresh drywall, fresh molding, fresh flooring, fresh spackle, fresh paint. There aren’t twenty-million nail-holes in the wall, or that awkward patch job, or scuffs or nicks or anything you have to work around. No mold. No dents. All clean and all ready.

But it’s not a liveable room.

Generally, you want something of a wall between you and the environment, to keep the rain off, to keep the cold out, to provide shade from the sun and protection from the wind. If you’re doing something as drastic as replacing windows (or moving windows), you have some time with a big gaping hole in your wall. If it rains, your beautiful house sports the ever-so-elegant-and-fetching plastic tarp (bright blue, so it matches exactly nothing).

You feel a little exposed.

And drafts and drips sneak in around the edges and you want to yell, “FINISH THE PROJECT ALREADY!”

I love the outdoors. I love weather. But I love them better when I know I’ve got a place to hide from them. And I have felt stripped-to-studs for some time now.

I’ve got no resilience. Everything hits me in the gut. Something bad happens – a normal, life-is-that-way kind of bad – and I want to cry. I have a precious share of “good days” now, and I have to tell myself it’s okay to keep on having bad days. I’m stripped-to-studs and I feel like there’s not a whole lot between me and, well, the universe.

But I have seen things.

Neil Armstrong passed away a couple weeks ago. There have been a lot of pictures and articles around about what he did and how it was done. The business of taking human beings to the moon and back is a tricky one, and NASA’s engineers have to balance the strength and resiliency of their designs against weight limits. They cut out everything they can, make things as light as possible. Meaning that in a few places, all that stood between the astronauts and the near-vacuum of space was a thin sheet of metal. Bad enough that they were miles from breathable atmosphere, relying on scarce, carefully-measured supplies for things like heat and food. There was very little that stood between them and a quick, silent death.

And they’ve been the envy of billions living on this comfy, cozy Earth.

Astronauts speak of the way going into space changes a person. Seeing the Earth from above is a profound experience, underlining the breathtaking beauty of our world, the smallness of our world against the universe, and the smallness of us against our world. Those who have left our atmosphere have seen the stars without anything to veil them. In orbit, the stars don’t twinkle. They burn, bright and perfect, and there are more of them. Armstrong and the rest who have set foot on the Moon have witnessed earthrises, and have stood in the earthlight. None of which is possible unless you’re willing to go right to the edge of possibility, out beyond safety and comfort, and risk your life.

When God leads a person out beyond the borders of comfort, into hard wastelands and chill winds, it doesn’t have to be punishment. That would be like calling “climbing Everest” a punishment. Or “reaching the South Pole”. Or exploring the depths of the ocean in one of those tiny 1-person submarines and being the first to witness the fantastically strange creatures that live their whole lives where light never comes. Or bouncing along the Moon’s dusty surface, singing “The Fountain in the Park.”

This isn’t to say that it’s better than being “on Earth”. If there was someone who’d lived their whole life on the moon, or in a spacecraft, the Earth would seem like a paradise to them. They’d be floored with how beautiful it is, and how welcoming and rich and full of life and light. They’d never want to go indoors. And rightly so.

When you have nothing, there’s no way you can miss the generosity of others. When your heart is worn and broken, you treasure the comfort given you. When doubts and fears come thick and fast, you appreciate the strength of well-founded truth.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I’d read that verse a million times, but now I have seen it, and am learning (slowly) to rely on it. There’s a paradox kicking around my thoughts right now that goes something like, “The more control I yield to God, the more I rely on him instead of myself, the less I direct my own life, the more I am free to be myself.” I don’t know that I wouldn’t have learned that otherwise, but I gotta say, seeing it as clearly as an astronaut sees the curvature of the Earth is a gift I’m not going to turn down.

“We learned a lot about the Moon, but what we really learned was about the Earth. The fact that just from the distance of the Moon, you can put your thumb up, and you can hide the Earth behind your thumb. Everything that you have ever known, your loved ones, your business, the problems of the Earth itself, all behind your thumb. And how insignificant we really all are. But then how fortunate we are to have this body, and to be able to enjoy living here amongst the beauty of the Earth itself.” – Capt. James Lovell, in an interview forĀ In the Shadow of the Moon.