A Whale in the Desert
A WHALE IN THE DESERT
By Allegra Lund
I sit here, crying in the middle of the night, on the top bunk of a bed in a room with three other sleeping girls. I am 15. The girl in the bunk below me is also 15 and she’s pregnant. Another girl, 13, just moved in and is going through withdrawals. Tonight is the first night she’s not sweating, vomiting and screaming. The fourth girl is 16 and has been at this house the longest. She shared the bed with the new girl tonight. She sleeps with bandages around her arms from trying to commit suicide last week.
Our foster mom is drunk on the couch in the living room.
How did I get here? I don’t belong here. I want more out of life than this. The whole world is chaos around me and I am completely alone.
I have always thought my story was a little hard to write. It’s something that cannot be told with one event, but rather in a sequence of events. It may feel a little tragic at times—there is a lot of hurt, but that hurt only leads to greater hope and healing and that sweet peaceful feeling of triumph and joy.
As a six-year-old, I remember walking down our long dirt road to my grandparents farm. I grew up there, in the same trailer home that my mom was raised in. My mom was gone a lot, but it made us siblings close. Looking back, it seems a little Huck-Finn style: poor, scrappy, unconventional, free-spirited, maybe not always legal but good at the core. We faced a lot of outside adversity, exposure to drugs, sexual abuse, domestic violence and hunger. It was hard, but we had each other.
Until we didn’t.
I was 11, a guy moved in, my mom was pregnant, my older siblings moved out and we moved away from the only home I’d ever really known. Over those couple of years I bore more neglect, hunger, shame, abuse and the deepest loneliness, which led to a surprise visit from a social worker and a whole new set of hardship from foster care.
In that moment, crying on the bed in my foster home, I needed so much. I felt like a whale in a desert and there was no chance of rain. I worried that there was nothing I could do to change my life trajectory. I worried I would end up the same as the other kids in foster care—with so much hurt, wrong choices, and only the mirage of love. I wanted to give up. But, in that darkest moment, I started to feel something change in me.
For the first time, in a very long time, I really thought about God. I wondered if He could feel that moment too and if He thought about me sometimes. I wondered if there was water in Him to quench some part of me. I wanted to take every drop I could get and find out if there was something more. I still wanted to try, and it was because of Him. There was hope in my bones and for the first time I could see something ahead.
I got out of foster care and lived with my mom and stepdad again, but that didn’t last very long. I was 16 and had nowhere to go, so I lived in my car. My body, my mind and my spirit had been in crisis mode for so long that I didn’t know how to be normal. At school I pretended everything was fine. I showered at the gym, went to school and played on the volleyball team. I fought everyday to remember that hope I felt on my bed and to remind myself that things could change.
Eventually I moved in with my grandparents. It was then that I started to feel safe and more myself. It was as if I started to become more who I wanted to be. And ironically, that is when things got harder.
You never really know how bad the fight is until you stop fighting, make the trek home to safety and see what’s left of you. My deficiencies and insecurities were shocking. I felt torn and tattered and deformed. I couldn’t connect, trust or feel empathy.
One night, at a campfire with friends, I just started talking—telling bits and pieces of my story, and the things I believed because of it. It was then, a little caught off guard, that I realized this is how it happens. This is how you heal. Sharing allowed me to see myself clearly and honestly, maybe for the first time, I could see the full path I’d walked. There was heartache and my metaphorical thirst, but there were also plenty of drops given to me: tiny ones and huge buckets of water thrown at me like enormous miracles.
Then I realized that a whale doesn’t survive in a desert without a miracle.
I saw a video once where there were hundreds of people gathering water and pouring bucket after bucket onto a beached whale, waiting for the tide to come in to save it.
Well, that was me. God had been sending me people all along the way, carrying bucket after bucket, believing in me, when I didn’t even believe in me. I thought of these people; kind friends, their parents, people I would meet at church, teachers, my athletic coaches, my siblings, strangers, my grandparents and I realized I was no longer in the desert. I was on the beach and Christ was quenching my thirst through them. He was filling me up one bucket splash at a time and eventually, the tide would come.
God has taught me something over the years about me and about Him. He taught me that His way isn’t just a path, but rather an equation—an equation with many parts that all add up to our best, kind, controlled and aware self. It equals peace and happiness, and even if you start at zero or negative one hundred and eighty, the equation still works. It’s hard. It takes faith, being vulnerable, feeling the pain, letting others in and it takes trust in Him, in others, and in ourselves.
10 years later, I’m 29 and the tide has come. I am sitting in my home at 1 AM, celebrating my 1 month anniversary with my husband, who is beside me; he didn’t want me to write about this alone tonight.
I think of how I got here. I think about Christ, the creation, His atonement. I think of the loneliness, the abuse, the hunger, the betrayal and the suffering that Christ went through. And He did it all for me.
God is always there, but we have to recognize the little drops He gives us. We have to let Him heal us. The greatest healing I have ever received was in meeting my husband. Finding a man that was good, trustworthy and would accept all of me seemed near impossible. God sent me a man that was more than I could imagine. Learning to trust and share with him has healed me. Finding my person made me realized that God was always there, leading me to a joy-filled life.
“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” (John 7:37, KJV)