Last week, I found myself hanging upside down in my friend’s bedroom. I’ve never tried bungee jumping and I wasn’t a skilful enough gymnast to hold a handstand for more than a few seconds so I’ve not had many views of the world from this angle.
I’d limped over to her house to get some relief for my back. She’d invited me to try her inversion table- a contraption you strap yourself into, before tipping yourself upside down. The idea is that gravity pulls the spine out and hopefully straightens out any kinks. The idea isn’t to burst the blood vessels around your eyes but if there’s a wrong way of doing something, I will usually find it.
It was a weird, intriguing experience but it was also one that left me feeling vulnerable. My injury meant that even a small movement could make my back scream out in pulsating pain. As I dangled by my feet, my ponytail grazing the floor, I wondered just how agonising it would be if the contraption failed and I fell to the ground…
Suspended in the air, I was reminded of our recent trip to some caves in Kuala Lumpur. It took us days to struggle up the steps behind the famous golden statue in order to explore the shrines in the caves above. I think the folk who laid the steps probably ascended that hill faster than us. But then they probably didn’t have a lazy toddler whose legs only work if there’s chocolate on the horizon or two older children terrified of the enormous troupe of feisty macaques who guard the way. And then there was me at the back, struggling in a sarong I’d been forced to hire for the sake of modesty, home to a band of fleas that seemed intent on biting my ankles.
By the time we’d seen the shrines, we were so hot and bothered that we agreed to a conservation tour of the undeveloped caves next door, which looked invitingly chilly. They were a series of unlit caverns, a labyrinth of Malay flora and fauna, according to the ticket man.
As we set off into the belly of the hill, we were given torches to light the way. Half way round, we were instructed to switch them off and the effect was utter darkness, an inky black so heavy and close it felt claustrophobic, even though we knew we were standing in a large chamber. It wasn’t the best time for the guide to tell us that the flora and fauna included pythons. That definitely hadn’t been mentioned during the sales pitch.
After that, I wanted to know about the pythons’ diet. Did it include the general public? Was this how the conservation tour worked- we conserved the pythons by providing them with dinner? I wished I hadn’t made a joke of it when she answered. She told me the pythons live off the baby bats that hang from the cave ceiling. Too weak to cling on, some fall down to the waiting snakes.
That image stayed with me long after we left: the vulnerable bats trying to grip the ceiling, away from the predatory pythons below. It stuck in my mind because in it I saw a picture of what some of us are doing in our lives. Like me hanging upside down on that inversion table, desperately hoping not to crash onto my head, we sometimes find ourselves clinging on in life, trying to avoid the thing circling below.
Maybe it’s concerns about our children, an unhappy relationship, a situation at work that’s overwhelming us. Maybe its the isolating, debilitating pain of a physical weakness that won’t heal. Maybe it’s the seemingly bottomless chasm of grief. The emptiness of boredom or regret. An addiction or depression that’s become our shadow. A house we can’t sell, a mortgage we can’t afford, a divorce battle that seems endless. Some voluntary role we took on when there already weren’t enough hours in the day. We’re holding on, trying to wait it out, all the time hoping this thing won’t swallow us up.
It’s not a cheery image and I am happy to say I had a much more hopeful picture of what fragile humanity can also look like. It was a picture described to me at an Armed Forces Christian Union (AFCU) weekend away by a remarkable man called Paul Valler. He preached about Jesus being like an eagle and us being like his baby eaglets. It’s where I got the name for my blog.
This was during a time when I was struggling to cope with being a military wife, mother of three little ones and a solicitor. I was suffering with anxiety and I could feel depression moving itself into the mix. My husband was away for bursts of time, 6 weeks here, 2 weeks there, 8 weeks further down the line. I knew I had to change something or I was going to end up like one of those bats, hurtling downwards.
When I was invited on the weekend away, my husband was on exercise in the US for the summer and wasn’t going to be back in time. I hesitated. The theme of the weekend was work-life balance, which I was aching to hear about, but I couldn’t face it on my own with the children- even small things seemed overwhelming at that stage. A friend prayed my husband would make it back in time. She said ‘With God nothing is impossible’ (Mathew 19:26). He got home 2 days early, a rare and precious thing in his line of work!
When we arrived at the conference centre, late on a Friday night, in the dark, the children tired and hungry, our bags were taken from us and we were waved straight into dinner. On the wall, in large letters, it said ‘Nothing is impossible for God.’ I knew then that we were where we were supposed to be.
I spent a lot of the weekend in pain. I’d not long fallen on a run and given myself a bulging disc. I rocked around in my chair during the talks and seminars, nursing my spine. The man sitting behind me stuffed his jumper in the small of my back, an act of kindness that summed up the weekend.
A friend suggested praying with me after one of the talks. As we did, I was reminded of a verse about proclaiming freedom to the captives (Isaiah 61:1 and Luke 4:18). My job had begun to seem like a prison, something I no longer felt able to do on top of my other responsibilities. But I felt trapped because I liked the salary and, if I’m being honest, being able to say I was a lawyer.
I wasn’t earning mega bucks and I’m not a high-powered lawyer but money and titles can confer a powerful, if false, sense of value. Both are capable of enslaving us.
The final talk of the weekend was the one that went deepest. Paul Valler explained that the Bible describes God as an eagle in Ezekiel 1:10 & 10:14 and Deuteronomy 32:1. From those verses, he suggested that God is like a mother and a father eagle.
He is like the mother eagle who looks after her eaglets in the nest, providing nourishment and safety. When the time comes to teach the eaglets to fly, the mother eagle will stir up the nest, lining it with thorns and brambles to nudge the eaglets out.
We were told that God sometimes does the same thing when he wants to move us on to the next thing he has planned, nudging us out of our comfort zone.
The speaker went on. As the eaglets plunge to certain death, too weak and inexperienced to fly, the father eagle moves in. He has been hovering nearby and as his young fall, he catches them and returns them to the nest, repeating the process over and over until they have learnt how to use their wings.
During that talk, I started to questions whether I should leave my job. Would God catch me? I was due to work three days later so I knew would have to carry on a bit longer.
As I sat in the police station that week, struggling to recall the law that I should have known but couldn’t remember because l’d been too busy packing lunch boxes and doing the school run, it became clear to me that my nest was being stirred up.
On my long drive home, I took a wrong turn and the sat nav couldn’t come up with an alternative so it sent me miles down a road to do a u-turn and drive back the way I’d just come. I got a sense that God was saying: If you ignore my signposts, I’ll still come with you but it’s going to take us longer to get to the right destination. It was only a sense and I wondered if it was just my own thoughts so I carried on questioning it all. But a tiny spark of an idea had appeared in my mind: maybe I was delaying something better by sticking with the familiar.
The week afterwards was half term and we rented a cottage in Swaledale. My husband and I chatted about what I should do as we drove between the dales, on walks around dry stone walls and waterfalls, in teas shops-everywhere! The decision was big because I knew if I left law, it might be forever. The exams weren’t fun the first time round and some of my qualifications had a short shelf life. I was desperate to leave but fearful of what it might mean financially. A strange phenomenon- to be frightened of leaving the thing that’s frightening you.
My husband said we needed to make a decision. We read our Bible notes together first. The verse for the day was psalm 119:72:
Bit faded now from the harsh sunlight in our kitchen!
‘Does God need a megaphone?’ my husband asked. We emailed my resignation and my boss offered me more money. I really, really didn’t want to walk away then. The gold and silver glinted and beckoned and made me feel valued. My husband said he thought I should stick to my decision and I was grateful that at least one of us had some back bone. So I left.
The following month the salary I didn’t earn was made up by some extra money my husband got for being on exercise. God was blessing our decision. I got up and told everyone in church.
Then the next month, we not only didn’t get my salary, the previous month’s windfall was clawed back- payroll had made a mistake. And as I looked at our online banking, I wondered if my faith was a mistake. If I was wrong about the overpayment, maybe I was just wrong. Maybe there was no God. It’s not a doubt I’ve often had but putting my money where my mouth was tested my faith in new ways. I started job hunting.
It was the start of December and we’d decided to read some Advent notes together. I can’t remember how it happened since I was questioning God’s very existence but one night, with Handel’s Messiah playing in the background, we sat in bed and read the first Advent reading. It was about God’s call for Abraham to pack up all his family, livestock and belongings and set out across the desert for an unknown place (Genesis 12:1-4).
The commentator suggested Abraham may have questioned whether God had really asked him to do this bizarre thing, perhaps wondering if this was just some strange idea of his own and not something from God.
As we read those words, I pictured in my mind’s eye our family walking across a desert, like Abraham and his family, and I felt peaceful. I knew God was in control. We didn’t know the destination but he did.
It also occurred to me that if God wants to teach us to fly when we take a leap of faith, it makes sense to leave us in free-fall for a time. There’s no opportunity for us to trust him if he catches us straight away. I didn’t look at jobs again.
Two or three weeks later, my husband was offered a job here in the desert. We laughed when we heard but slowly it started to make sense. For some women, this posting would be a non-starter because of the difficulties of continuing a career out here. But we’d just covered that issue!
And the issues I had about being in control of our finances and destiny are ones that God is helping me to tackle as we negotiate our new life. I don’t have a bank card, I can’t drive, I can’t practice law, I have someone to help me in the house- areas which were previously my domain have been taken out of my hands. Not forever but hopefully long enough to teach me not to worry so much about these things.
As we were packing up to move overseas, someone from church said she sensed I felt like a bird whose nest was being exposed and stripped back. It was still winter when she said it. The idea came to her when she was looking at some trees with no leaves, the nests inside them revealed and laid bare. She said she thought God wanted me to know my nest was secure, even though it felt as though it was being totally dismantled.
Photo of a father eagle taken by my dad
On our last Sunday in the UK before leaving for our new life in the Middle East, my husband and I read again about God’s call for Abraham to leave his homeland. We traced on a map the route Abraham travelled and I was amazed to see it roughly followed the northern border of where we now live. At church that morning our friend preached about God’s call for Abraham to set out for an unknown destination. I hadn’t told anyone about that Advent experience and the picture of us walking across a desert. Peace settled in my heart, despite the turbulence of moving overseas for the first time.
That’s not to say living here is easy. I haven’t sailed off into the sunset. In some ways, things are actually harder than we imagined. But my anxiety has lifted. And writing this post is helpful becomes it reminds me that there is a plan, this isn’t random. It also reminds me how much I love God. He is so kind.
My journey over recent months has taught me that none of us need to be like those bats, clinging on in our own strength, trying not to fall. We have a father who wants to show us how to let go, who wants to teach us to fly and when we’re tired, carry us back to his nest to rest and try again.