I lived in Phoenix, Arizona for four years. Let me tell you, this island girl didn’t do well in the desert.
It was kind of like living on the sun, if the sun was populated by five-million busy and rude people all trying to take the same freeway. That parched wasteland of asphalt left my soul bone-dry and thirsty.
I ached for the the ocean. I yearned for the color green. I longed for rain. But, honestly, none of that surprised me. That, I realized, was to be expected in the desert.
What I never anticipated: the washed out pallete of Phoenix’s night sky so curiously devoid of stars.
One of the dominating characteristics of a bustling city of Phoenix’s magnitude is light. Street lights and front porch lights. Blinking neon signs and sweeping flood lights. Five million people set the valley ablaze. With all that man-made glare continually flooding the area, the city is crowned with a hazy aura that can be seen fifty miles away. You’d think all that luminescence would be a relief to a girl afraid of the darkness. Instead, I mourned how it impeded my view of the stars. No matter how I squinted up into the night sky from my back porch, I could rarely spot more than a few dozen sad, wavering pinpricks in the night sky. I was forced to pretend that passing planes were heavenly bodies just to get my fix.
My only relief came those blessed weekends we drove up North to visit my mother. Friday nights, as my daughters and I wound our way up the I17, and then the 69, from Phoenix to Prescott, Arizona we always delighted in watching the temperature drop as the altitude increased. But even better, the further from Phoenix we journeyed, the inkier the night became. In the blackness, the sad smattering of Phoenician stars multiplied into a merry little group, then a respectable display, until, 100 miles from the city, the night sky glowed with swaths of brilliant stars.
Although literal darkness may have been a rare treat during my years in Phoenix, that same period was shadowed by an immense internal blackness as my depression overwhelmed me.
Since childhood I had held my personal night at bay with artificial light of my own design: third helpings of pizza and forgetting myself in five books a day, outrageous lies and sexual exploits, hash laced joints and lines of meth, camel menthols and twelve hour workdays. I had always stoked the fires of a hundred idols so as to combat the night inside.
By my first few months in the desert, each of those candles had been snuffed out, leaving me defenseless. No matter how I searched, I could see no end to the darkness. Completely hopeless to bring any light to my situation, I sank into despair.
And there, in the bleakest, darkest place imaginable, I looked up to heaven, and began to see the stars that had always surrounded me. Brilliant and beautiful, yet for so many years, completely outshone by all that artificial light that had for so long blinded me.
- Tear studded laughter in stolen moments with an old friend
- The radiance of a student’s face when a concept that has eluded them for so long finally makes sense, “You mean it’s THAT simple?”
- The muted rumbling of dice across a cardboard board and the belly laughs of my daughters on family game nights
- Curling up with the Psalms and an enormous cup of coffee on an overstuffed couch of my very own
- The giddy relief of an unexpectedly unscheduled day off of work
- Finding a culture pass for free tickets to the zoo midday at the Burton Barr Library
- The warm, thick hug of my ratty flannel robe
- Watching a Good Good Father answer my daughters’ prayers for items I could not afford- a Christmas tree, a pet rabbit, a bicycle, a cornsnake
- Crowing over a run and a hundred aces in my hand while my big sister whines that she hasn’t won at pinochle in ages.
- Raiding the cupboards when the grocery money ran low and the subsequent baking sprees resulting in seeded bagels, cheese-its, and pretzel rolls.
- Reading Peter Pan aloud to the girls until we were so struck by the poetry of Mr. Berry’s words that we were compelled to pull out all the art supplies and begin creating.
- Winding our way up to the old mining town of Jerome, clinging to the side of Mingus Mountain, to admire all the art we’d someday be able to afford.
Again and again, the sweet beauty of these moments would suddenly overtake me, bringing me to grateful tears. How much more brilliantly they shone when all else seemed so dark.
Innumerable spots of burning beauty in a rich, velvet night.
Each one the gift of a loving and gracious Father.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. ~James 1:17
O yes, those dark years held many gifts for me. Among them, the lessons I learned:
Artificial light, man made, muddies the skies and obscures the view of my blessings.
When the blackness presses in, all I have to do is look up and fix my eyes on the heavens.
Even in the darkest night, with my face up-lifted, I am never truly alone. Even there, especially there, the radiance of the Father’s glory is present.
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:6