In my hometown, every summer all it would take was one person asking, "Y'all wanna go down to Settles?" and in a minute we would all be packed into somebody's truck in bathing suits and shorts with an itch to do something stupid. 'Settles' is short for Settles Bridge; an abandoned bridge crossing over the Chattahoochee River about ten minutes out of town. The bridge was built in the late 1800s but was abandoned sometime in the 1950s. Yet for us back then, that bridge was a right of passage. Climbing out to the middle and jumping off was something you had to do-- even when the stories and reports of people drowning or getting seriously hurt were always getting tossed around. It never stopped the boys from climbing higher up on it or girls squealing as they jumped to ensure everyone was watching. Every summer just the same, we'd end up there on long Georgia summer afternoons when the temps were nearing triple digits...causing us all to get a little crazy. We'd sit at the waters edge taunting, cheering, and yelling up at whoever was standing in the middle looking down trying to make today be the day they could earn the 'right' to be proudly standing at the bottom.
One late spring while in college, I brought along a friend for the trip home for Easter. He was originally from southern Florida, and I remember the break quickly became a weekend of showing him what running around a Georgia town in your teenage years looked like. Which, of course, meant taking him out to the bridge, though years had passed since my friend group stormed the waters edge. When we pulled up it looked as if no time had passed at all. Students were clamoring out of cars and down to the water to take advantage of the hot temperatures starting to roll in. As we made our way down the dirt path, we could already hear the sound of voices ringing out as they yelled up at someone on the bridge. We reached the river’s edge and the chanting become clear: 'Don't think, just jump!' 'Stop thinking about it, jump!' 'It makes it worse if you think, just do it!!'
I didn't know it way back in high school or even when I returned in college, but those chants went from moments of teenage craziness into a mantra I was living by through the beginning of my adult life. I would always jump first and think later, regardless of what it would cost me. In friendships, in conflict, in big decisions, and in the check-out line at TJ-Maxx. I was jumping into situation after situation without thinking...then was left wondering why so many of my stories ended in mess, regret, or something I had absolutely not planned for to happen. I was climbing out on to the 'abandoned bridges' of my life and allowing the voices of others (and most times my own) chant me into jumping.
The reality is: I bruised up my own heart as well as many others in the process. I sent messages that could never be taken back. I dove into relationships that were grounded on anything but certainty and the gospel. I ran my mouth thinking words behind closed doors would never seep out to other ears. At the end of the day: I jumped before thinking with -whether I recognized it or not- the belief that my plan, my mindset, or the feeling of the moment was bigger or better than anything God had planned for me.
At the edge of the bridge for big life decisions, new jobs or whenever I met a boy who was funny and had really great hair...I was trusting the voices down below to be the 'god' of my decision, not the Spirit inside of me. Or even worse-- I thought I was making the better choice by going ahead and jumping in. I had put myself in a throne that I incredibly did not belong in. Not even for a moment.
It wasn't that I was always impulsive or reckless (which, well, in those teenage years...let's not argue, I was completely), it was more that I didn't trust God to finish the story. I would look at what He had written so far and have the audacity to think the only way for me to finish the story was to jump when I felt it was necessary.
Recently I was brought to a screeching halt in-front of a Psalm I knew so well, but was introduced to reading it as a very personal journal of a man like King David. For the first time in seeing it as a journal entry much resembling the ones I almost daily scribble out in a corner of my apartment, I read a deeply personal reassurance of a God who is near-- even when we are jumping into hard places:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the sings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
(Psalm 139: 7-10 NIV)
In these words, I find not only a God who is ever present, but a God who is there...even in the "even there" moments. It's there within that proof where I feel most that I am never alone.
Even there...when I feel unseen or less than.
Even there...when it feels that everyone has what I was wanting.
Even there...when my life looks nothing like the picture I thought it would by now.
Even there...when all my flesh-filled heart wants is to love and be loved.
A phenomenal song-writer and Bible teacher, Laura Story, recently wrote, "The heroes of our faith didn't trust this great, good God because they were told they should and they minded-- they trusted him because he had shown himself to be great, good, and trustworthy. Not just once-- over and over and over again."
That's when it all sunk in, friends: we love and know a God who does not leave us on the abandoned bridges of our lives taunting us to jump not knowing what the outcome will be below. He is there to walk us through each step, and there to hold us in the unknown when we have to jump when our prayers haven't been answered yet. He can find us when we are on the wings of the dawn, on the far side of the sea, when we're falling head over heals for the bad guy with a really great laugh, or when we're on the edge of the bridge about to jump into another reckless decision. He's there. Just as easily.
Back in the days of teenage pressures, I would easily surrender to the voices below me and the fear inside of me. In my early adult years it was jumping to avoid the voice inside me that knew this wouldn't be right and pain would follow below me. Maybe you did too. Yet now, now I want to stand in the middle of the bridge with the God who is present, active, and moving in the "even there" places of my life.
I was all about surrendering my life to the pressures or the fear, but in the quiet moments that ring so loud I now desire to surrender my life over and over each day to a God who is no stranger at all. He is the God of "Never stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love," as the Jesus Storybook Bible so perfectly describes Him.
So in the present, I'm going to jump like I did many years ago...yet now I'm jumping into a surrender and life-giving love...that might be the only reckless that beats the one where I "settled" years before...and what feels like lifetimes ago.