You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Alone in the darkness, in her room with the curtains drawn tightly against the glare of the streetlight shining like the moon on a pole outside her window. It seemed like ages since she'd felt peace - since she'd felt comfort - since she'd been at ease. Worry weighed on her chest - tight like an overblown balloon - like something caught in her throat - choking, squeezing, pushing. Alone. She was alone.
She closed her eyes again, tears seeping at the edges; her lashes were soaked and she could feel the moisture of them resting, hovering on her cheekbones. In the blackness. Crying silently - there was no one to hear, no reason to draw attention to her emptiness. Deep sadness squatted like a toad - a bloated, lumpy, misshapen toad - filling the void.
Another night of sleeplessness. Another night thinking, cycling, wishing.
She knew it would pass - this feeling of dread, of despair. She knew she would get up, come morning, and go through the motions of the day. She knew she would smile, and speak, and eat, and drive - she would do and be all those things that looked normal and healthy. All those things that would bring the day around again. To night. When she was alone again. Another night of sleeplessness.
Divorced years ago - her now-husband, a good man, was gone. Not gone from her life, just gone from her place. Sent across the country - working hard to create a new life in a new location for his family. Just a little longer and she would join him. With her daughter. Hopefully.
But first, first she had to sever the hold of her daughter's father. Oh, that she had never met him - the man from her first marriage - the wrong marriage - the wrong man. Crazy, violent, mocking, unholy. Like a flesh-eating disease, only this disease had eaten at her confidence, at her self-esteem, at her soul. He had threatened her life. I will kill my wife and take my daughter. At the courthouse - in front of witnesses. His wife...she hadn't been his wife for over five years... The police had come to the door, to see that she was safe. She thought of his guns, his background, his paranoia. His sickness. And now he was stalking them. She had seen his car passing by the house - their house - on the street where he had no business but to check on them. He had given copious notes to his lawyer, disclosed in court, that documented lights on and off in her household - when she was home, when she wasn't - who was there... He had sent a packet of lies and innuendo to the district where she taught - accusing her of abusing her daughter - demanding that she be released from employment. It was bad.
He was, truly, mentally ill. And without him, she wouldn't have her daughter. Her beautiful inside-and-out, special daughter. She couldn't wish him away. So she prayed. Every night. For her own safety. For her daughter's safety. Her daughter who still had to spend time with him. Who came back from her visits talking about Daddy's words, and Daddy yell, and Daddy slam the phone. She prayed for strength to face the days, and she prayed for peace to face the nights. Soon, she thought, soon they would be away - where he couldn't reach them, where her daughter wasn't exposed, every week, to this subtractive man, to his take-away life. And she prayed for him. She prayed that God would place someone in his life who would expose him to Jesus - to the life-changing joy, grace, and forgiveness that was Jesus.
Another night. She had just spoken with her husband - across the country. He was excited about the upcoming move. It was always worse, that sense of loss, after shared conversation... She looked forward to seeing her daughter again the next day - home from her required visit to her father. Father, she prayed, I know you're there. I want to feel you, tonight. Hold me in your hand. Help me. Tell me I'm doing right.... Her thoughts drifted off - she was out of energy and that toad was squatting in the emptiness.
I am well pleased...
Her eyes opened. The voice...
I am well pleased...
"God?" She spoke aloud in the blackened room.
She smiled. Then her laughter filled the room. The dark room - not a place of sadness. Not a place of worry. She imagined a hand, the palm of a hand, closed lovingly over a treasured object. God's hand. God's palm. Protecting. Loving. Not alone. Never alone. She knew; she had known. She was being reminded.
Years and years ago, the Israelites were held captive. The prophet Isaiah told of their release from that captivity - how they would be led in peace, and joy. So much joy that all the earth would rejoice with them. In the same passage - God's people are told about the Savior, Jesus, who would lead them from darkness into light - and the whole world would rejoice.
As real today as it was when spoken by Isaiah years ago - we just experience our captivity in different ways...
God, thank you for reminding me of your constant presence - when I had been held captive by my own issues, my fears, my worries. Thank you for your constant presence, Emmanuel, God With Us. Thank you for your Son - your peace and your joy.