“Do the next thing” repeats over and over in my mind.
Decades ago I heard Elisabeth Elliot share that after she learned of her husband’s death she had spoken these words to herself while grabbing a broom and sweeping the floor. Ever since then, that story has stuck in my brain. And now, I find myself sweeping, too. The heaviness inside me is lifting while I gather the dirt and leaves into a pile. My mind is slowly starting to work. I think I may be able to do the next thing… maybe even find a way to face the sadness and fear that sits like a brick in my stomach.
It’s Friday—mid-morning—a week has passed since I learned the cancerous tumor in my right breast has grown, and three days before I meet with the surgeon to discuss surgery and the possibility of a fast-tracked mastectomy. This possibility is one of the things that has scared me the most during these months of dealing with breast cancer and metastatic melanoma.
Since my doctor’s appointment, I have wanted both distraction and quiet, to be with people and to hide. Folks have come over for dinner. All the windows on the first floor have been cleaned, inside and out. With friends, I have gone kayaking down the Conestoga River. I’ve sat on my second-floor back porch, alone, intent on observing a yellow and black swallowtail that returns each day, playing around our butterfly bush, sliding across the air, then getting lost in the branches of the neighbor’s maple tree. In these moments, I have gathered gladness and quiet into my heart.
But tears and prayers have sprung up easily in spite of the smiles. I don’t feel ready for what might be next. My husband and daughters are woven into these prayers. It’s not hard in this season to ask God for help and to make His presence known to us.
Friday morning my husband Ned sees me wandering around the house, not able to put my mind and hands to anything; he suggests a walk around the neighborhood. When we return, I get my broom and decide to “do the next thing.” And it’s while sweeping the patio and talking to God about my fears, that I find my mind going over stories I know and love: The Fellowship of the Ring . . . Hannah Coulter . . . Peace Like a River . . . The Chronicles of Narnia.
Eventually, I remember Lucy following the lion Aslan, king of Narnia, in the woods. In Prince Caspian, the second book in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, during their return to Narnia, Lucy and her three siblings are on an arduous journey with their path being blocked again and again. At one particularly discouraging point, as the party turns back from an apparent dead end, Lucy sees Aslan and realizes that they need to change their course and follow him. Despite her attempt to persuade them, the group chooses not to go Lucy’s way (they did not see the Lion). Later, Aslan tells her that he had called her to follow him even if others would not. After the sting of this revelation dissipates, a second chance is given and Lucy chooses to submit and follow. Aslan goes before her. There is so much to glean personally from this section, but it’s what comes next in the story that my mind and heart need right now:
“For a long way Aslan went along the top of the precipices. Then they came to a place where some little trees grew right on the edge. He turned and disappeared among them. Lucy held her breath, for it looked as if he had plunged over the cliff; but she was too busy keeping him in sight to stop and think about this. She quickened her pace and was soon among the trees herself. Looking down, she could see a steep and narrow path going slantwise down into the gorge between rocks, and Aslan descending it. He turned and looked at her with his happy eyes. Lucy clapped her hands and began to scramble down after him.” 
Yes, in fixing my eyes on Jesus, just as Lucy’s were fixed on Aslan, and in knowing Jesus’ eyes are fixed on me, I discover a new resolve that comes from deep certainty, and it is only natural then to follow Him when He says, “Come”… no matter where that might lead. I feel this truth growing deeper within me, trusting His presence not only goes before me but is also with me as He says, “Have courage! It is I! Don’t be afraid!”
In John, Jesus tells His disciples to get into a fishing boat to go across the Sea of Galilee though He is not going with them in the boat. At nightfall, a high wind swirls around them, and the sea throws itself against their vessel. This type of storm could very well cause their death. When they see something ghostlike coming towards them, they are terrified. It is Jesus, walking on water. He says to them, “It is I! Don’t be afraid!” 2 (The Greek words Jesus says are “ego eimi” which is translated “I AM.” Instead of saying to the disciples, “It’s Jesus,” He declares He is God.)
Jesus sends them out into the impending storm. But He also comes to them in that same storm and tells them He is with them. Keith Winder, one of my pastors, recently noted about this passage,
“In this story, Jesus walks through the waves. He doesn’t just appear on the boat. He walks through the same storm the disciples are experiencing. He shares our pain with us. Theologians call this presence of God in our lives, His immanence.
God is always near to us. He is wherever you are at any moment. As it is written in Jeremiah, ‘Am I not a God at hand declares the Lord? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him, declares the Lord?’” 3
The gospel of Matthew expands on this in chapter 14 after Jesus says, “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid!” Peter replies, saying, “If it is you, Jesus, command me to come to you on the water!” And Jesus does, with a simple “Come!” 4 And then, this disciple-fisherman is walking on water— his eyes fixed on Jesus. However, this doesn’t last long, as the strength of the storm frightens him and his attention is pulled off of his Lord onto his surroundings. As Peter is sinking, he cries out for Jesus to save him. Matthew chronicles this rescue by saying, “Immediately, Jesus reached out His hand, caught hold of him, and said, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Then Jesus brought them both into the boat.” 5
John points out that once Jesus is in the boat, they get safely to the other side of the sea. Matthew adds the details in verse 32 that once he and Peter are in the boat, the winds cease and the disciples worship Jesus by saying, “You are the Son of God.” Elaborating on this event, my pastor said, “God is there before the storm, God is there during the storm, and God will continue to be there at the end of the storm. Jesus has gotten in your boat, and he will safely take you to the other side…”
Lucy grows to understand and know Aslan in a deeper way as she learns to obey him in the hard places. As each step of hers follows his, Lucy experiences more of his faithfulness and learns more about his purposes. In Scripture, Peter and the other disciples experience the reality and presence of Jesus—as the Son of God—when He walks through the storm to them, saves Peter from drowning, then gets into their boat and delivers them to the other side of the sea. He doesn’t save them from the storm; He saves them through it. As I seek to trust and follow Jesus’ lead in the midst of my own storms, I too will grow to know Him more fully, and this greater knowing of Him will strengthen my hope.
I can do the next thing.
I can go into this upcoming appointment with my surgeon, trusting in Christ’s sustaining presence. And, even if I am sorrowful and scared and struggling to keep my eyes on Him, I can move through this storm with Him present, with His eyes on me, while He says, “Have courage! It is I! Don’t be afraid!”
“We ask for good outcomes, pleading that you would be
mindful of our mortal frailties,
but we know that regardless of the tidings to come, you are
tender and present and sovereign over all circumstances,
and what is more, you love us fiercely and eternally.
Therefore I would trust you to lead me well along the paths
of any wild and perilous country. You are my shepherd. This day
will hold no surprises for you. Let me rest in that.
1 C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian
2 John 6:16-21, ESV
3 Jer. 23:24, ESV
4 Matt. 14:28,29, ESV
5 Matt. 14:31, ESV
6 Douglas Kaine McKelvey, Every Moment Holy
Leslie Anne Bustard takes great joy in loving people and places, whether at church, around her kitchen table, in a classroom, or traveling around. She delights in words and the way poets and storytellers put them together, and marvels at the beauty found in the details of ordinary life. Reading, writing, teaching literature, baking, producing high school theater, and museum-ing are some of Leslie’s favorite things. Leslie is the host of The Square Halo, a podcast for Square Halo Books (https://www.squarehalobooks.com/podcasts) and is developing a book titled Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to the Best Children’s Books. She and her husband Ned have been married for 30 years and live in a century-old row house in Lancaster City, where they raised their three daughters.