“Hope” is the thing with feathers –That perches in the soul –And sings the tune without the words –And never stops – at all –And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –And sore must be the storm –That could abash the little BirdThat kept so many warm –I’ve heard it in the chillest land –And on the strangest Sea –Yet – never – in Extremity,It asked a crumb – of me. ~Emily Dickinson
People ask me how I am feeling.
I know in essence that’s asking if the pneumonia is gone, or if I have more energy and if dinner is happening easier along with packing morning lunches and hurrying little feet off to school.
But the question I really want to answer is not how I’m feeling but what I’m feeling.
It’s strange how this shell of a body can heal while still leaving one shell shocked. How you can be better and yet not anywhere near recovered. How you’re out of bed blissfully baking brownies but still wanting to crawl under covers to hide from daylight. How this being beat back time and time again has left scars and scabs that will take a journey before arriving whole.
I’m reading this beautiful book called Mourning Into Dancing by Walter Wangerin, Jr. and I have found a friend between the pages. He says “we die a hundred times before we die; and all the little endings on the way are like a slowly growing echo of the final Bang! before that bang takes place.”
She crawls up at my feet all smiles, her spilling the contents of the day, when in a blink the mood changes and we hold hands into uncharted water and I know deep in my heart we are stepping onto holy ground. That some great awakening is about to unveil.
She talks about her outbursts, this one born of my own flesh in more ways than one. That no-one really knows it, but it’s not because she’s mad at her brother or the homework that she pitches a fit. It’s that she wishes she had a mom who was well enough to come to all the school parties and lunches. That when she’s hiding under her bed crying, it’s because she’s sad I spend some weeks with more time in bed and at the docs than anywhere else. That deep in her heart, sometimes…just sometimes, she wished she had a mom like everyone else.
And I’m her witness nodding at all the pauses.
But it’s what comes next that brings a flood of tears, because hearing that your precious eight year old girl who’s discovered grief so young…to hear that she crawls out from under warm blankets to kneel beside her bed and pray for me while all the rest of us are sleeping…well there are no words. Only tears mingled with hers that this is hard. That this is never what I would have chosen for any of us. But that there is a daily choice to choose bitter or better.
And in the choice to be better there will be grief, and so much of it! Because my dear friend, no matter what you’ve been told about big girls don’t cry, or tears show you weak and weakness is something to run from at all costs, you’re going to have to come to terms with before the sun sets that
…grief is not the enemy. It hurts, to be sure. But it is the hurt of healing. Grief is the grace of God within us, the natural process of recovery for those who have suffered death, exactly as the slash in my arm, with scabs and pain and itchings, healed. Grief is itself the knitting of wounded souls, the conjoining again of brokenness. ~Walter Wangerin Jr.
It’s hard work this shedding of tears as our old self sheds. But somehow, somehow I’m convinced that perhaps to the surprise of us all, joy comes in the mourning.
And I’m tasting it. In all this sadness, grace carries light.
I’m unpacking lunch boxes, handing out after school snacks and listening with all ears tuned to little people chatter about their day, when out of the blue her call comes through.
Her…the one who’s journeyed deep waters with me. Who wasn’t afraid of rampaging texts as I worked honestly through the latest crisis at hand.
The one who stood firm in faith as funds emptied and we waited for jobs to come through.
The one who always said confidently “Jesus goes with you” as we’d up and pack for another “even though I walk through the valley” travel.
And all this mostly through text and email. The encouraging steady heart of a friend reassuring she was there through it all.
Not wearying that the battles re-occurred and bloodied everyone in the process.
She was and is and will be there.
We chatted small talk when a catch in my throat caught as she revealed her true reason for calling: to cheer on one who was battle weary.
The words were few, but something in her quiet resolute heart opened a window of my soul giving permission to feel.
To feel how hard it’s been.
To count the cost.
To shed tears of loss.
To remember that in all the getting it wrong, my Father’s heart is always warmed by faithfulness. By our picking-back-up-agains to follow into unknown seas.
And for the first time in months, tears flowed and didn’t stop long into the moonless night.
The ticket out of survival mode.
Softening a heart preparing it for spring planting.
She’s a single mom who just lost her job and yet it just keeps coming.
The meals and the texts and the running to grocery stores just for me…for us…and this cup is clean spilled over, humbled low by love.
Because love suffers long.
And it’s those who have been through fire that are often the ones who understand it most. Who know without a doubt that love isn’t always convenient, or to be rationed until all is neatly wrapped
in a package and tied up in a bow.
Love is in it for the long haul.
Love simply suffers long.
And as one who has been through deep waters again and again, I’ve found comfort in those precious souls willing to journey through the hopeful and hopeless days. Through the bloody mess until beauty rises. Who have said they are waiting with me until Monday, or until the treatment starts working, until a doctor figures it out…or doesn’t.
No matter they’ll be there.
And what I want all of you dear ones to know, you are bearers of light in the darkness. For when I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, you believed for me. You stood in the gap when I couldn’t even whisper a prayer.
And it’s you who have taught me it hurts less when friends cry with each other than when they say “it will be better soon” or try to rescue from pain. And I know all this because you hoped for me and saw a place where suffering ends…and there were days I needed you to remind me of that…but it soothed my weary heart when you quietly hoped and believed when I couldn’t, because you knew that it’s often in the laboring, not the rescuing where beauty is born.
And in case you didn’t know? Some of the kindest things you’ve given are simply sweet words of affirmation. Words that remind me of who I am apart from illness. Words that uncover truth when I was shrouded in sadness. I have bottled each and every single one to hold onto in the middle of sleepless nights or tedious tests and loooooong doctor visits. Because there is nothing more beautiful than the one who bears good news in the middle of suffering.
And you friend? The one who just showed up with meals or a car, to clean or simply to listen? You are a beautiful soul who gave brave when I who was too weak to know what I needed but I found courage in each act of kindness. In each reaching out, I did not feel alone.
This, the prayer of my heart as I languish through a day of feeling “less than”:
Don’t give up.
Expect God to get here soon. (Psalm 31)
Embrace tears. They wash clean. And know that even in these insidious moments where you doubt every step and promises whispered in dark spaces, there is redemption. There is hope.
Do hard….because greater is HE that is in you than he that is in this world. The story already has an ending. LOVE wins the battle.
And the message needed at just the right time from a dear friend….
NEVER let fear be greater than faith.
Where has time gone? It was only yesterday when I grasped little fingers in mine to take a spring stroll. Flowers were in bloom and birds of all sorts singing and this heart was bursting for there is no greater gift than shaping little lives as they grow. It was then I heard it. The call that has pierced this spirit through since a baby and I wanted them to hear it too. Only there was so much noise, so many songs being sung that their ears couldn’t hear that one distinct sound in the middle of all the muddle. So we practiced. I would hear the turtle dove’s song and sing it back to them that lonesome call seeming to say “come with me come…come” and they would try their best to hear it. To see ears straining and eyes watching undid this mom’s soul because it’s hard and it’s exhilarating all wrapped in one to watch the ones you love try and fail and try again. But then they heard it!!! And oh to the heights of heaven we all did soar and the rest of the walk was all about listening and hearing and listening again.
And isn’t that the way it is with our Father? The voices around us are loud and they clamor for our attention and before we know it everything is as clear as mud and we are stumbling blind. This journey to healing has been full of noise. So much to process with all the opinions and there are so many things I could do or try or buy and it has left this girl spinning in circles and far too often over budget and landed in the department store of despair.
I was out walking a few weeks ago thinking back to that jaunt with my little sweet ones when I spotted a turtle dove bursting into song. I found myself crying out to God that I wanted to hear His voice over all the din…I wanted to do what He was telling me, nothing more nothing less. I wanted His voice to be so distinct that I could not miss it. And I’ve found that the first step in hearing is asking. So I kept asking…and asking…and asking how to best aid this frail body in healing. Then sitting still to listen. Listening while the Word washed over me, listening as dear friends gave their thoughts, listening as I washed dishes and tears mixed with the water and slowly I began to hear Him whisper ever sweetly to my heart because peace is always the measure of His Words above all others.
And so the journey to detox from sugar began. Really I’ve tried it before and always fell off the wagon but this time has been different for courage comes when you know you are being led by the One who holds all the strength you need. But I would be lying to say there hasn’t been sweet cravings so this smoothie has been a lifesaver for me especially when my family pulls out the milk shakes and evening desserts. Also it is low in calories but very filling which has helped with the never ending hunger pains prednisone provides. Above all though, each day I spin up this yummy treat I’m reminded that God longs to speak to His children and if we ask and listen He will show up with words of life. And when He does whisper, or shout or sing…as Ann Voskamp says “Do what HE tells you.” It may not always make sense to the crowd but the peace that comes from listening and obeying is priceless.
Chocolate Banana Smoothie
1 TBL cocoa powder
1 TBL natural peanut butter no sugar
1 cup ice
1/4 cup water (or more if needed)
1 tsp. vanilla
I can recall it nearly word for word snuggled up with little ones reading the pages and yet it still gets me every time. Perhaps because I feel I arrive in this place everyday in one way or the other. I close my eyes words spilling right out, the heart choking tears (and about this time the kids are all asking “mom WHY are you crying…again”):
“You can get so confused that you’ll start in to race down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space, headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…
….for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting. Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite or waiting around for Friday night or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil, or a Better Break or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.” ~Dr. Seuss
But is the Dr. really right? Is this place of waiting useless? Because if it is than someone please tell me what I am to do with the hours..no years! spent here…not to mention the last week of waiting in doctor offices, waiting for labs, waiting for the medicine to kick in, waiting for the tears to leave, waiting for answers, waiting…waiting….waiting….
We gather for Sunday meeting hope nearly run out and the pastor has us turn to Romans and there slipped between the pages it is found. The answer for all this waiting…this hoping…this longing for something to come of the brokenness in and around because we are frail and fragile, torn and tattered in need of wholeness and healing.
“All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, anymore than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us, but the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.” Romans 8:22-25
Can anyone spell relief? There will be deliverance! It is coming and the more I am enlarged in this time of waiting the closer I arrive to the moment when all will be set right. When there will be answers. When all will make sense and I will see with mine own eyes purpose in the pain. And for tonight, this moment when I’m wearied by the waiting, I’m going to hold on that He knows this state I’m in…He knows me far better than I’ll ever know myself….and is “making prayer out of our (my) wordless sighs, aching groans”.
Surrender is a beautiful thing. This waving of the white flag. This agreeing with God that He knows what He’s doing. I sigh…lift hands towards heaven asking that my life with all it’s crazy seasons…especially this season of waiting, would be counted as grace, pure lavish beautiful grace.