Finding Faith to Fly Again
2005 by Jim Robinson
I was a child, I dreamed I could fly. I had the dream often.
It was effortless—three steps, arms spread, and I would
rise up on the wind… somehow aware that it was a dream,
and that my flight would be temporary—blissful, finite,
as natural as breathing. I also seemed to understand in this
sleeping part of me that it was a gift, a God-Dream, something
that He knew made me happy, and one that He sent to me often.
this is part of the reason I’ve always loved the story
of Peter Pan. He not only knew how to fly, but he was willing
to share this secret gift with others. "You just think
lovely wonderful thoughts," Peter explained, "and
they lift you up in the air."
we all know how the rest of the tale goes. Silently, secretly,
something happens when we grow up. Something happened to
me. Life came rushing
past, carrying me along with it. Pain arrived with all its
unexpected yet inevitable intensity. My family fell apart,
and my dreams dissolved. An emptiness descended upon my soul
that seemed nothing more and nothing less than a resigned
folding of wings. The earth recaptured me. Time passed, and
I forgot how to fly.
Barrie begins the story of Peter Pan like this:
except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up,
and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two
years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another
flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have
looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to
her heart and cried, "Oh, why can't you remain like this
forever!" This was all that passed between them on the
subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up.
You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of
few weeks ago I turned fifty. And despite all attempts to
convince myself how silly it was to feel such a thing, for
a while I was depressed about it.
some ways, this depression shouldn’t come as a surprise;
I have lived with bipolar disorder for most if not all of
my life. Over the years I have downplayed it to some and concealed
it from most, and since my type of disorder is relatively
mild, I have functioned quite well over the last sixteen years
while in recovery from my alcoholism and drug addiction. Lately,
though, this old nemesis has raised its vile head again, and
I have struggled some. Maybe this is why my 50th birthday
has bothered me so.
both confused and embarrassed by these feelings. The passage
of time has never before bothered me, really. I can’t
remember another birthday that was in any way distressing.
Turning thirty, forty…these events brushed by me like
a gentle breeze, barely noticed. As a recovering addict, I
have always considered myself to be living on borrowed time
anyway, each sober day a generous gift. I could easily have
died during those awful years of abuse, and God has restored
so much in my life, far beyond what this sinner deserves.
So why does this birthday—a meaningless milestone in
and of itself—bring with it a vague sense of sadness?
my birthday has nothing at all to do with these feelings.
But for someone who has dedicated his entire life to never
growing up, I suppose turning fifty brings with it a certain
symbolic significance. Like all alcoholics, I have never wished
to accept fully my adult responsibilities. Perhaps more than
others, we addicts ecstatically embrace our childhood, grasping
it by the scruff of the neck and hanging on for dear life.
Maybe we are designed with more passion, empathy, creativity…born
into this world but never quite of it…and thus more
vulnerable. We are aware on a deeper level of how beautiful
life is, and yet at some point we discover that life is also
full of pain. And those arrows that seem to bounce harmlessly
off others around us burrow deeply into our too-innocent hearts,
and life seeps slowly out. We run. We hide. We live in fantasy.
Peter Pan, Wendy asks Peter how old he is. Peter is
at first taken aback.
don't know," he replied uneasily, "but I am quite
young." He really knew nothing about it, he had merely
suspicions, but he said at a venture, "Wendy, I ran away
the day I was born."
grandmother knew how to fly. She encouraged me to dream. She
possessed the innocence and fearlessness of a child. When
I was very young and the world very bright, my “Mamaw”
and I were best friends. We invented a game. We called it
“Getting Lost,” and the rules were this: She and
I would climb into the old Rambler Classic, a square white
car that Papaw always said could only do forty or fifty miles
an hour, tops, “downhill with a good wind behind it.”
Mamaw at the wheel, I would shout my commands—left,
right, straight, or back. She had to go the direction
I ordered; it was the rule of the game. During these half-day-long
excursions it was my responsibility to lead us into the darkest,
most remote, uninhabited, treacherous areas of rural Benton
County. And we found plenty. She’d be puttering along
in that old Rambler, fearlessly manning the helm, when without
warning I’d scream “TURN LEFT HERE!” or
“STRAIGHT THROUGH THAT GATE!” or “BACK UP!
LET’S GO BACK TO THAT MUD ROAD!” And, laughing
in the face of danger, decades before the age of Fix-a-Flat
or cell phones, we two explorers tried our best to get as
lost as we possibly could.
had promised to boldly go with me where no five-year-old had
gone before, and go we did. Often I worried we were going
to get lost, or break down, or be swept under in those low-lying
woods by some evil flood or avalanche. But it never happened.
Mamaw said Jesus was with us. And I felt safe with the
two of them.
grandmother possessed that marvelous combination of faith
and wild abandon that all children have, and she knew instinctively
the difference between living with daring and passion and
living recklessly. She liked to have fun. She
was gracefully childlike rather than childish, responsive
to the music within her. And she cultivated in me the same
stuff. Never, never, never be afraid to dream—her
memory seems to be constantly saying—Just
tell me which way to turn. It’s better to be lost
and frightened than never to try a new road.
so we would go, deeper and deeper in to the unknown places,
further down the path of pure, exhilarating faith, until the
canopy of oak and pine and maple and sycamore thickened and
the sky disappeared, day becoming night, a very young boy
sliding ever closer along the Rambler’s bench seat till
he was snug against his favorite girl, both of them clinging
to an invincible friendship. And as we went further into those
dim and mysterious places, the gravel growling menacingly
beneath the tires, the sun now no more than an occasional
glimmer of hope, Mamaw and I would press our spirits and our
courage and our dreams together, bound by a faith much stronger
than our fear.
Wings of a Dove
told me all about Jesus. And she taught me—without speaking—that
God and children were uniquely connected. But over time something
happened, somehow, and as I grew up my spirit slowly grew
more distant and I felt drawn away from our eternal spring
together. Mamaw taught me about dreams and wings… but
at some point, I forgot.
wrote about this in my memoir, Prodigal Song.
We grow up. Some of us do, anyway, without meaning to or knowing
how it happens. We sometimes take the light God has given
and turn it into something else, something dark and caved
in upon itself, something heartless and selfish and cruel.
We walk away from our little towns, however large or small,
and our families, however bright or broken, and go to distant
countries, wandering after other gods…leaving our dreaming
For a long time, I did not seem to miss God much. I put my
thoughts of Him away somewhere and just went on ahead alone.
I don’t know why or even exactly when, but one day I
simply turned away and didn’t look back. Then,
many grown-up years later, after traveling a road no one could
have predicted, I found myself once again calling out His
name, crying to Him from the ground, looking up, broken-winged,
bleeding and frightened. And I would learn, just in time,
that there are both God-Dreams and dreams of our own making,
and that those who have tasted His need never be lost to the
so, here I am. Fifty years young, as they say. And the truth
is I shouldn’t even have this opportunity to mark the
passage of time in my life, because for many years my life
was all but gone. Coming to my senses, I have decided the
sadness doesn’t really fit after all. Because by His
grace I was given another chance. Christ died to give me—each
of us—that choice. And when I felt nearest to death,
He came to me, and gave me new life. Broken, I finally could
not stop the sobbing, and He held me. Here, in the safety
of this embrace, I listened. And I came to believe, slowly,
that hidden somewhere between the dreaming and the waking
there waits an indomitable Truth, and within that Truth lives
all mystery and meaning, all purpose and plan…once more
lifted up on God-dreams, our childlike arms spread out wide
…alive, flowing, soaring into the coming morning on
the soft white wings of a dove.
Remembering the Way
the end of Peter Pan, Wendy had grown up, and had a
family of her own. Her daughter, still innocent enough to
believe in miracles, asks about the days long past, before
her own mother had forgotten how to dream…
way I flew? Do you know, Jane, I sometimes wonder whether
I ever did really fly."
dear old days when I could fly!"
can't you fly now, mother?"
I am grown up, dearest. When people grow up they forget the
forget the way. Many of us have wounds, and have become deceived
by them. We have grown old. And yet, perhaps this is where
God steps in, seeking the child in us all. If we let Him,
He brushes His hand across our wondering eyes, once more granting
us the freedom of flight, guiding us to a place where we might
find mercy in our memories, and grace in our regrets.
is where Jesus, the Living Christ, comes alongside and offers
us what could be the greatest gift of all—the chance
to choose whether we wish to be haunted by our dreams, or
given flight by them. This is where we make that bravest and
most childlike of choices, and head down a dirt road deep
in the woods…. Listen—the barely audible
echo of footsteps as childhood fleets away, the days all pressed
together and hurrying past like shimmering glimpses of a dragonfly
darting just above the water’s surface, humming, hovering,
gone . . .
never, never be afraid to dream—her voice now more
than mere memory, a living thing with wings—Just
tell me which way to turn. It’s better to be lost
and frightened than never to try a new road…