18 Inches North

October 26, 2011 | 16 comments

I remember it still. How could I forget?

I would startle awake, with bedsheets tangled around my legs. My hands would grope for evidence of my own heartbeat — proof that I was alive. 

I was alive.

Before the jolting upright, I stood graveside, kicking dirt into a six-foot-deep rectangle. My grave.

There was no casket, no flowers, no mourners. Just a single hole slashed into the Earth.

The haunting fear of death came predictably, just after the lights went out. A pale specter with bony fingers and a black tuxedo would show up, creaking  open the door into my mind, then making himself comfortable until the coming dawn. He smiled a lot.

During the day hours? I was fine, distracted by the click-clack of my own high heels on the State Capitol floor and the exhilarating rush of a newswoman’s deadline. Yeah, I could deal with the day-time deadlines. It was the night deadline — that single traced line around a future grave — that I couldn’t handle.     

Those nights dogged me.

I wanted to believe in God. I wanted faith. At times, I would think I’d cornered faith, but once in sight, she’d race for the lap of the grinning man sitting in an easy-chair on my cerebrum.

“Do you ever have trouble believing?”

Once, I remember asking my husband that question after he turned out the lights. He said he didn’t, and I never asked him again.

Some say faith is a matter of bringing one’s knowledge of the Bible 18 inches south into one’s heart. Me? It was the reverse. Faith hid in my heart, but I couldn’t figure out how to dislodge it, moving it 18 inches north into my intellect. I wanted to believe, but couldn’t.

I still remember the long car rides alone, on my way to news assignments across the state of Iowa. I’d tune into Christian radio.  I think I said the sinner’s prayer 50 times one year, but never felt any different. I cried out to a God I wasn’t sure existed. I wondered if I’d gone crazy, talking to myself at age 30. 

Looking back now, I think my heart was smarter than my brain. My heart wanted to believe, but my head hadn’t caught up yet.

A.W. Tozer once wrote that faith is like an eye. The eye sees everything in front of it, but never sees itself. I’ve begun to realize that I had faith after all, but couldn’t recognize it for what it was. My puny faith was groping for God, in a way that neither my eyes nor my mind could see.

My heart was gazing upon a saving God, even when my mind couldn’t make out the shape of Him. Somewhere along the line, my heart began to outsmart my head, and my mustard seed grew.  The guy in the easy chair left one night, and never came back. And once Faith didn’t have that lap to sit on anymore? Well, she was stuck with me.

I don’t have that graveside dream as often as I used to. But every once in a while, I find myself standing there again, by the hole. And sometimes, I lean over to put daisies on the ground.

That’s when I feel the sun warming my back. 


“Faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.” 
— A.W. Tozer 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith.
And this is not your own doing;
it is the gift of God.”
— Ephesians 2:8

Writing in community with Ann Voskamp …

Ann asked us to write about The Practice of Faith… “What does it look like to believe? How do you practice your faith day to day? How do you share that faith, deepen faith in Christ, live that faith out in the midst of fears?”

by | October 26, 2011 | 16 comments


  1. Pattylh

    Ahhh, you’ve touched on something I’ve struggled with intensily for the last 5 years even though I’ve followed God since I was 7. Can faith and doubt coexist in a Christian? My wise pastor said one time “Don’t let your doubts define you.” That was freeing to me. My mantra on days when the doubt seems more real than the faith: Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

    • dukeslee

      I appreciate your thoughts, Patty. And I also appreciate your wise pastor. 🙂

      Honestly, I used to be pretty fed up with my doubts. But now I believe that they can be a gift. For me, they do a few things:

      1 — Doubts prompt me to look for answers, talk with trusted spiritual leaders, pray more.

      2 — Doubts help me to “lean not on my own understanding.” This draws me to a humble place, on my knees, closer to God.

      Doubt has become an old friend, oddly. I don’t doubt like I used to (thanks be to God) but I also don’t take credit for my faith, like I’ve been prone to do. For even faith is a gift from God.

      I hope this rambling comment makes sense. 🙂

  2. Erin

    I struggled with faith earlier this year. I wrote about it a few weeks ago . . . it finally came down to just begging God to show me He was real. Laying out the fleece. Putting my fingers in the scars of the nails. God is so gracious. He showed me so clearly who He is, and brought me back to Him.

    • dukeslee


      Would you be willing to share the link here? Grateful for your story …

  3. Michelle Somers

    Yes, I’ve struggled with faith and just ask the Lord to help me through it. He has shown me too many times how real He is so even when I have those times I know He is real.

    This is so beautifully written, thank you.


    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Michelle, for stopping. I’m glad that God has made Himself very real to you in those trying times. This is a gift, of the Eph. 2:8 variety.

  4. Carolyn Counterman

    I see God making Himself evident all the time. It has been a very long time since I felt much of anything. Not sure what to make of that.

  5. Megan Willome

    Oh, that ending! I love that your dream/vision altered to include a heavenly vision, but didn’t disappear altogether (reflecting reality).

  6. Dolly @ Soul Stops

    Thank you Jennifer for sharing your heart and faith journey…encouraging!

    Love the Tozer quote.

  7. Teresa

    Wow…profound. Beautiful. Getting to the heart of the matter. Thank you for sharing with incredible vulnerability!

  8. Patricia

    Ok… first, excellent writer woman you are, this was wonderful…

    At times, I would think I’d cornered faith, but once in sight, she’d race for the lap of the grinning man sitting in an easy-chair on my cerebrum.

    and second, yes, when those doubts come (especially in the shape of scary dream images) I can only pray the name “Jesus” over it. The one whose presence and power reigns over those confusing doubts. Thank God he is not a God of confusion. What an amazing story… thank you for sharing this.

  9. Dea

    Recently I was at church far from my home that kept a tally of Sunday School statistics posted on the wall. The numbers were in the teens. I started to wonder what kept the doors of that church open. I decided it was faith.

    Faith keeps many doors in our life open. And I believe you are right— your heart was there but not your head.

    So glad that the door of your mind stayed open until it joined your heart in the beautiful practice of faith.

    I am learning that to live the fullness we need the practice of faith in hearts and our minds.

    Always so blessed by your insights.

  10. Ann Kroeker

    What an honor to glimpse your 18-inch journey; or, rather, realization. It is not our own doing; it is the gift of God. Luther and Calvin and Dukes-Lee remind us of this truth.

  11. Anne Lang Bundy

    It’s hard to believe that the chasm between head and heart can be so difficult to traverse, even for the God who waits to be invited …

  12. Dani Pettrey

    Wonderful post. Really touched my heart. It’s so amazing to me how God works, how patient He is with us, and how deeply He loves us. Thanks for sharing.



  1. The Apple of Your Eye | Ann Kroeker. Writer. - [...] yesterday at church, as we sang in worship, my intellectual exercise traveled 18 inches south, to my heart, and…

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