Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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With a Radiant Face

June 17, 2024

Gianna Soderstrom

My four-year-old daughter is a determined child; one afternoon her older brother teased her that she wasn’t really riding a bike, and the next afternoon she insisted I remove her training wheels. Forty-eight hours later, she was pedaling defiantly without even a helpful push to get going. There’s nothing more precious than seeing her on a bedazzled pink bike, helmet buckled snuggly under her chin, pedaling gleefully up and down the driveway. 

She gets stuck only on the uphills. With great care, she straightens out her pedals, places one foot up, and then begs in her lilting and innocent four-year-old voice for someone to “take hold of me, please.”

I don’t know how she landed on those particular words, instead of asking for a push or any of the other phrases newly-minted pedalers gravitate toward. But she begs “Take hold of me,” every time, and every time, I acquiesce. 

There is something else I’ve been trying to take hold of; something less tangible than a child on a princess bike. Soon we are moving up to a summer camp in the mountains as we have each spring for the last six years, and each time, saying goodbye to our beloved church and community of friends is a little more heartbreaking. I know that we are called to go—I know it in my bones. Our years of moving up to join in the discipleship at summer camp will end someday, but they have not yet and there is some reason for it: some reason God holds close to His heart, and so I try to hold it close to mine too. I cling blindly to this reason I don’t understand, obscured as a pillar of cloud in front of me, and I follow it into the desert. 

I do not think Moses found courage particularly easy. He spent forty years of life enjoying the comforts of Egyptian royalty while wishing he could identify with his Israelite brothers. Then he fled and spent forty years guarding sheep in Midian with a people not his own. Not until he was eighty did Moses take leadership of the Israelite people. And for the last forty years of his life, Moses led the stubborn and distractible people of Israel through the desert. 

Every time Moses was called into a new season of life, he had to leave his home.

Even as an infant, his life was saved by being sent away from his home, his family, his people. I think of him from time to time as I pack for camp, walking away from Egypt into the desert, the pain of homelessness lodged in his chest like a shard. 

He found a family in Midian. A father-in-law, a wife, sons. And still, Moses was an outsider; he named his first son Gershom, which means “I have been a foreigner in a foreign land” (Exodus 2:22 NLT.) Twice now, Moses had left his home. Then he met a burning bush—and was uprooted once again.

I can almost picture Moses on the long trek back to Egypt: bent with weariness, wind flinging the sand against him like a stinging rain. Perhaps he leaned heavily on his staff, but always with a thread of caution. It had become a snake once. 

He spent the rest of his life much like that. Walking into the desert, one foot in front of the other, following the strange cloud and fire that shepherded and protected the people, compassed them through lonely wastelands until they saw the river Jordan splashing mightily before them. 

There are people and places and moments that I love at camp. Deep friendship conversations shimmer like an oasis in the summers. Raucous laughter with the other staff members rains down sheer joy like manna. On still evenings, the glassy lake and green surround of hills might be the very dwelling place of God. Moses must have had his moments like that in his forty years of wandering.

No matter how much I look forward to camp, there is still a shard of longing lodged in my chest.

No matter how settled I am, there is an ache of homelessness. I am a foreigner in a foreign land. I may have found the dwelling place of God, but there is no Jordan River falling in foam and spray across the stones.

Forty years Moses and the Israelites wandered between Egypt and the promised land. Moses and the people of Israel were not wandering aimlessly. The cloud and the fire did not abandon. The manna did not cease. The very rocks gave forth water to slake their thirst. The wilderness was not purposeless; it was profound. In a strange and tangible way, God allowed all that was doubting and unfaithful to die off. They were purified. Sanctified. 

Do I have the courage to die?

One morning, my phone chirps with a text message from a friend. It reads only five words: “How are you holding up?”

I do not know how she knew to ask this. I didn’t even know to ask this of myself. Until I read the words, I’d thought I was holding up just fine. I begin to cry, at last. I open my hands and weep, and wish that something or Someone would take hold of me. Just take hold of me; hold me. And something does. 

Grief comes again and again all throughout that week, unstoppable, but gentle. Courage uncorks the tears, and soothes them; courage flowing soft and sure out of conviction. These temporary goodbyes are awful, necessary. Reunions at camp good, true. Someone has taken hold of me, of our family and led us out into the desert, for a purpose

I begin to pack for camp with the image of the aged and faithful Moses in my mind. I think of myself walking behind him, matching my feet to his footprints before the wind can erase them, watching ceaselessly as his bent and covered head moves along before me. Perhaps he will turn and look at me, and in his glance, I’ll see crow’s feet etched in the weathered skin of a shepherd around eyes that still speak of laughter. Perhaps I’ll see the hope of a promised land. Perhaps I’ll see in his leathery face that he, too, is led; that he sets his feet in the footprints of the Divine. They say his face shone with a radiance so strong, he wore a veil. 

Perhaps when he turns around, it will not be Moses I see at all, but God.

The featured image, “Gnarled Wood,” is courtesy of Justin Lee Parker and is used with his kind permission for Cultivating.


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  1. Amy Lee says:

    Oh goodness, my friend. This is full of deep comfort and beauty. Thank you.

  2. This is stunningly, beautiful and brilliant, Gianna. Just like you.

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