"But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord." - Jonah 1:3
I grew up learning about Jonah on the felt board in Sunday School. Yes, felt boards, not Smart boards, were the name of our game back then. Jonah is likely one of the first Bible stories we learn because it is so memorable. And what kid wouldn’t love a story about a man being swallowed by a big fish?
Well, of course that kid would have to be me. Ever the odd one, I always kind of worried about Jonah and was grossed out thinking of his three-day surroundings. Then, there’s the lovely visual of the fish vomiting him up. I can hardly even stand to use that word and Jason knows to change the channel at the first hint of visual/audio up-chucking of any sort. This story has never appealed to me in the slightest. But I still felt as if I’d known it inside out (ha, pun not originally intended) since I was a child. I didn’t really think there would be anything more to learn from it, but God always has other plans. I thought I knew it by heart, but He showed me it hadn’t sunk into my heart. Because I now realize, Jonah is my soul-brother.
Jonah disobeyed a direct order from God. I disobey God and He’s been speaking so clearly to me lately, I really have no excuse. Jonah tried to run from God. Boy, do I love my running shoes. Jonah thought he could sleep peacefully after saying “no” to God’s difficult task. I think I have to say “no” to the hard things if I want peace.
But, my storm is coming…
This illness is a storm of sorts. I refused to take care of my health for years. It’s really not a wonder that I’m sick. I ignored the nudges from God to slow down, to grieve, to manage stress, to ask for help. And I was swallowed-up, forced to stop and take care of myself. Forced to cry out to God again.
"In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry" - Jonah 2:2
The fish in which Jonah sat marinating in filth for three days was grace. Stinky fish grace. Grace he did not deserve. He was disobedient and deserved to be tossed around by the storm. But God sent grace in the form of a fish. It was in the dark, rank belly of that fish that Jonah called out to God again and promised to finally obey. And it is from the dark, foul belly of my illness that I found the nearness of God again. My illness is grace. Stinky fish grace, but grace. Beautiful, wonderful, humbling grace that I would have never known otherwise.
Allow me to illustrate this concept further. My days are full of stinky fish grace. Beautiful rubble. We only have one car right now and that means when I need it, I have to get up early and take Jason to work. Less sleep, stressful driving, BUT also togetherness I would otherwise miss. I would have missed kissing him goodbye outside his work today and watching his coworkers greet him in the parking lot. I had to be in Kingsport later anyway for an unpleasant meeting. There wasn’t enough time for me to go home after dropping Jason off so I planned to meet my friend, Robin, to walk. I was early to our meeting place. I could have considered all of this a waste of time, BUT I was able to watch the ducks play in the peace of the stream in the early-morning sun. I met a fellow bench-rester and we watched and shared a laugh at the ducks chasing each other. This man was just visiting his sister from out of state and I gathered he lives alone and doesn’t see his family often. I will likely never see him again but I hope this encounter was as bright a spot in this lonely man’s day as it was in mine. I am thankful for this simple, shared moment with a stranger. A divinely-appointed gift. My friendship with Robin itself is grace born out of illness. I only worked with her for six months and by that time I was so sick I couldn’t hide it very well. Being the great nurse that she is, Robin read me like a book. And I, the person with the iron bars and concrete walls, let her sneak past the gate. She is still a dear friend to me, much attributed to my illness rather than in spite of it. I have other divinely-appointed kindreds due to this wonderful, stinky fish gift of illness. By the time I had to drive back to pick Jason up this afternoon, I was far past my expiration but again, God gifted me. I don’t go many places by myself so I was perhaps overly-excited to be able jam to my very eclectic array of Alathea, Dolly Parton, Savage Garden, and Point of Grace. All I can say is dancing to loud music fends off panic-driving. Thanks be to God. Again, I was gifted with Jason’s presence and recap of his day on the way home. Alas, we still needed groceries and I almost considered it when Jason asked if I needed to ride IN the cart (oops, I mean, buggy). But God gifted another grace in the midst of the stink. I was greeted by my favorite grocery clerk who always smiles, calls me “young lady”, and genuinely wishes me a good day. He always blesses my heart. God always blesses my heart. My disobedient, fearful, run-away, stinky, filth-covered heart. He gives me grace I do not deserve.
IT’S TIME TO THROW ME OVERBOARD.
The storm has been raging around me for quite some time, waves pelting me against the rocks, the darkness covering my head, drowning me. Sometimes I’m not sure how I will make it out alive. Is the storm raging around you like this? I am wondering if it might be time for us to embrace the storm. To jump, or ask someone to help throw us overboard. I wonder if by welcoming the dark and painful circumstances, if we would experience God’s peace in the middle of them. To watch God calm the storm around me instead of watching Him calm it from a distance seems that much more powerful. I think I’m ready to be swallowed up by the stinky fish version of grace. Wondrous, mind-blowing, heart-changing grace that I do not deserve in the slightest. Grace that may not look like what we would consider good, but grace that saves us from drowning in our darkness. I want to embrace my less-than-ideal circumstances, believing that God IS working them for good. I don’t want to reject the seemingly stinky gifts anymore because they just may be what saves me. I want to see these gifts as grace. Beautiful, saving grace. It’s time to jump in.