Unexpectedly today, I was traveling along, roaming through a wilderness of my own making but one which I have begun to accept and learn to be content within until my circumstances change, when I pushed through a clump of scrub brush and suddenly found myself gazing upon the gentle but inexorable tides of the Red Sea. Only one other person in the world--my brother--can truly understand the terror that the words "Red Sea Place" engender in me, but I believe we can rectify that. I'll attempt to bring you into the circle of "family speak" in which this phrase has horrifyingly real meaning.
My father was a Pentecostal preacher for the majority of his adult life, and he was continuously developing an ever-growing canon of sermons that were familiar friends to his wife and children, as if they were members of our family. Within those sermons were encapsulated the observations, philosophies, and faithful nuggets of truth by which our family lived. One of them was called "The Red Sea Place." For any who may be unfamiliar with the Biblical backstory, here's the short-hand explicitly detailed. It begins with the Exodus, the great event during which the enslaved people of Israel left Egypt, the land of their captivity, to journey to the Promised Land, the region of the Earth today known as the Holy Land. The Pharaoh who had freed them in response to an onslaught of plagues God sent against Israel, came to his senses not long after the Hebrews left his land, remembering that they were a huge component of the Egyptian workforce, and that the country's economy would likely be wrecked by what he had done in his angry haste. Thus, he personally led his army of war horsemen and charioteers to capture and drag back the essential slaves. Before they knew what was happening, the Israelites, led by Moses, found themselves standing in the middle of a desert, with mountains on three sides, an army behind them, and the Red Sea dead ahead.
There was, quite literally, not a thing the Israelites could do to save themselves. They could walk into the sea and drown, or stand there, unarmed, with their wives and children as easy prey, and be slaughtered. And Moses asked God what He thought He was playing at. And God said, "Quiet! Watch, and see that I AM GOD." The rest, if you've ever seen Cecil B. DeMille's classic film, The Ten Commandments, is history, with parting waters and whales swimming up to say hello through the giant curtain of water as the Israelites walked, on dry ground, through what had so recently been a huge sea. The Egyptians naturally played monkey-see, monkey do, and the waters crashed in upon them as soon as the Israelites were standing clear on the opposite bank.
What, then, are the characteristics of the Red Sea Place? It is a situation in which you see yourself faced with no options whatsoever, or rather, options like starving and homelessness, and you can only stand there waiting until God gives you further instructions. Once He does, you must move quickly, and do exactly as He says, although the alternatives are so obvious that you'd never dream of doing anything else, anyway. Once you've passed through the miraculous deliverance that will only appear the second you absolutely must have it, your life will be forever changed, and there will be no possibility of going back to where you were before. Thus, Red Sea Places are usually accompanied by a certain air of hope and excitement for a new beginning, but that promise can only be fulfilled by surviving the intervening terror. Often, the months building up to the arrival of a Red Sea place have a feeling of impending upheaval about them, life growing incrementally more stressful and tightening down the screws, especially for those who have experienced these moments enough times to recognize the pattern.
Throughout most of my childhood, the symptoms of these on-coming catastrophes usually resulted in us moving across states or even across the country, my parents seeking new jobs, all of us leaving behind friends, church, and schools to start all over again. I swear, I identified very strongly with Ma and Laura Ingalls when I was growing up and reading the Little House books, and got very annoyed with Pa every time he started demonstrating wanderlust, because as far as I could tell, they usually weren't even facing the Red Sea of life, and he uprooted them, anyway! At least when my parents did it to us, there was usually a lost job, huge financial crises, medical catastrophes and the death of our only vehicle involved. One time, the house we were renting simply got sold out from under us! We were moving, whether any of us liked it or not. In another case, a flood hit our town, and the foundations under our house began slowly drifting off to make their own way in the world. It was an extremely wearying way to grow up. I think I've finally just accepted that this is how my life is going to be, but I hate it for my poor little Brigid the SuperToddler's sake.
Michael works for a company that is a government subcontractor. The contract is nearly over. We expected that his layoff would take place in the autumn of next year. Today, he discovered that it will happen in January. We're waiting to do, one more time, whatever seemingly impossible task You have planned for us, God, but You're going to have to send us a telegram or something, soon, and let us know what it is.