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Over the Falls

Words and Image by Dorothy Greco

In a six week time frame last autumn, our world unraveled. My husband’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died. My youngest son took a helmet to the neck in a football game and spent the next four weeks convalescing. I ran over someone’s dog. Our neighbor fell off his porch, broke his neck, and died. We left our church due to an intractable conflict and we got bed bugs. It was our worst fall on record, hands down.

Obviously, when we changed the calendar from October to November, it wasn’t as if everything suddenly turned around. Checks were written to the bug sniffing beagle and the man who baked our house to 140 degrees. We had both a bereaved neighbor and family members to support and not insignificantly, new jobs to be found. Our emotions swirled and eddied, swiftly heading for one precipitous drop after another.

On the way to leaving our eldest at college–and just before all of the calamity hit–we visited Niagara Falls. I had been there before and it is not one of my favorite destinations. The speed and the sheer force of the water as it plunges down those 160 feet terrifies me. Normally, water soothes and comforts me but Niagara Falls is an unavoidable reminder of how utterly out of control life can be. It was a prophetic pit stop though we did not know it at the time.

I like to be in control. Ever since I was a child, I used control to combat my raging fears and insecurities. I got teased routinely because of my cavernous dimples. My immature logic concluded, “People tease me when I smile me because of my dimples. I don’t like how it feels to be teased so I won’t smile.” This and other such choices worked beautifully which led me to a lifestyle of always being in control of myself in the hope of avoiding humiliation, shame, or someone’s anger.

And then Jesus showed up and messed with my modus operandi. Passages such as, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it,” (Luke 17:33 ) made it increasingly obvious that I had to face my fear of being out of control and learn to trust: the Trinity, but also human beings.

As with so many of us, the fear of being abandoned or unloved looms large. Prior to committing my life to Jesus, I assumed that if I avoided disappointing others or making anyone angry, I could earn their love. Through an earlier and more subtle crisis, God helped me to understand that I was actually manipulating (or controlling) others by only allowing them to see me from a very limited vantage point.

Ten years into our marriage, with a husband working three jobs and three sons under the age of six, the spin machine that was my life began to disintegrate. I was constantly tired, angry, lonely, and increasingly unhappy. While praying (or more likely venting) one morning, I sensed God asking me a question; “What would it look like for you to let go?” I remember everything coming into sharp focus and then a second later, sobbing uncontrollably.

Letting go was what I most wanted. I wanted to stop being perfect. To stop getting it right. To stop being the one who solved everyone’s problems and fixed everything that broke. I wanted the freedom to fall apart in public–even to have tell-tale black mascara rings under my eyes–and not worry so much about how others perceived me. But in order for that to happen, I had to let go and allow myself to go over the metaphorical falls.

Truth be told, it was a terrifying fall. Still is. By default, I continue to turn and swim in the opposite direction of the cascade. I find it easier to strive for perfection than expose my soft underbelly to complete strangers on a regular basis. But the life of a public speaker and writer is neither safe nor protected. I cannot do what God is currently asking me to do if I value image and safety over authenticity and vulnerability.

Every time I hit the send button on an article or mount the platform to the speaker’s podium, I risk being rejected or misunderstood. In order to continue, I have to remind myself of the Apostle Peter’s words, “So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for He will never fail you.” (1 Peter 4:19) I am choosing to hold onto those words–and that love–even in those moments and seasons when it feel like I’m going over the falls. Someday, maybe I’ll even enjoy the ride.

Since graduating from Boston University in 1983, Dorothy has worked as a photographer, journalist, home-schooling mom, and pastor. A rather eclectic combination which actually reflects the diversity of her soul. You can connect with Dorothy's words and images at www.dorothygreco.com.