Loop-de-Loop

Two weeks ago, I fell while running. Since the only broken skin was on my hand, and the only bruise a purple pin-prick on my chin, I thought I would be fine.

I took a day off, mostly because Guy asked me to. That led to three days off, because ouch my body hurt. Since then, I’ve walked the dogs on average four miles most days. I haven’t run yet.

I didn’t expect to be so sore, that my muscles would seize up first on my left side, where I landed, and then migrate to my right side.

I didn’t expect my heart and soul would hurt, too.

It took me a few days to figure it out: that when I took a literal fall on my face, I metaphorically hit the ground as well. The trauma in my body reignited the grief I have been working through for a while.

I will be fine. I am fine. Some days, however, I don’t feel fine. I’ve had to remind myself: grief isn’t linear.

The well-accepted stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—are all part of the process, but they don’t line up one after another. David Kessler, who worked with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, writes that, rather than acting as yield signs, the stages help us understand grief’s landscape; grief itself is unique to each individual.

Years ago, I attended a seminar in which a woman talked about helping kids deal with grief. She and her daughters witnessed their husband and father’s death. They’d bought him a hot air balloon ride for a big birthday celebration. His best friends joined him. Their families were following along on the ground when the balloon hit a power line and exploded. Everyone on board died.

I’ve sat through thousands of hours of instruction, and this lesson stuck more than others. She drew a messy squiggle on the board and said: “We think grief should be linear, that we move through stages and that’s that. No. Grief isn’t even a roller coaster, with twists and turns that come to an end. It’s this mess, and while sometimes it mellows, it never really ends.”

Recently, Shauna Niequist (@sniequist) posted to Instagram:

A reminder about grief: it isn’t linear, doesn’t honor the calendar or the clock or the weather, doesn’t obey the laws of logic or effort. It’s unpredictable. And sneaky. And it lives right alongside joy & hope & good work, & sometimes it’s so quiet you think it’s gone, & then out of nowhere it knocks the wind out of you on a Sunday morning or a Thursday afternoon. And sometimes it feels tender, like sadness, but other times it feels enormous & powerful, like rage or fire. I have walked through some soul-altering losses in the last several years, and I’ve been very intentional about walking through them privately—wise voices in my life have reminded me over and over that our private real-time, real-life wounds are not supposed to be bared in public, but rather tended to with honesty & love & truth-telling in private. That’s what one whole part of my life has been focused on these last couple years: allowing wise people who love me to tend to my broken heart in private. This part of my life & healing will remain private, but I do want to offer this to any of you who are also grieving something right now, maybe as a handful of comfort or hope: some days a very tiny, brave corner of your heart will burn with the faith that it is, someday, going to be okay…& then other days your chest feels like it’s been blown open by explosives, a ragged open wound. I have absolutely felt both, and quite recently. You’re not alone. Keep going.

Shauna’s last two words are the title of the post I wrote about falling.

I can’t go on. I’ll go on. Let’s keep going.

 

Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Phoenix

It can be hard to find beauty as you walk in the wasteland… And some days, seasons, in our lives feel just like that: devoid of beauty, wasted, bleak. But there is hope, friends, always hope. My friend Kristi reminds us to look to the phoenix. Grieve the losses, yes, but look for the new arising from the old.

re:create recess #18: Kristi Grover

Phoenix: a beautiful mythological bird resembling an eagle. It burns to death at the end of its life cycle…and from the ashes another phoenix arises.

As a young child I was absolutely fascinated by the phoenix myth I encountered through story. As an adult I continue to be intrigued by the imagery. I can look back over my life and clearly see many parallels when I consider various eras, relationships, and energies as they emerged, blossomed, and later flamed out—some slowly and quietly and others in a sudden whoosh of flame, leaving behind only ashes.

Yet, each time, those ashes held the promise of re-creation. Ashes are, after all, soil for new growth. They may appear to be a dull, gritty waste but they are in fact rich with nutrients and conducive to vibrant new life. Re-creation.

In the story I read as a child the protagonist is a young boy who has experienced a series of losses. He is lonely, suddenly living in an unfamiliar place, and not clear about what to do next. He strikes out on a solitary, aimless ramble in the woods and comes across a tiny phoenix emerging from what looks like a campfire. They become friends and share wondrous adventures until one day when the phoenix disappears.

The boy’s search for his trusted companion leads him eventually to the same place they first met. He witnesses the flames engulfing his dear friend, and grieves as he accepts that their time together has ended. Eventually he gathers himself to leave until a small sound causes him to look back and he sees a tiny new phoenix emerging from the ashes. Suddenly there is hope and the promise of new adventures.

In my life I have seen this pattern repeat in various ways. A good friend moves away or some other change causes the end of a once close relationship. A dearly loved family member dies. A move severs connection on many levels. A health challenge suddenly arises which effectively closes off meaningful work.

Even good, happily anticipated changes hold some significant loss. I was overjoyed as I anticipated being married to my beloved one, yet also privately needed to grieve significant losses as my life changed quite dramatically. As my children grew into maturity and moved off into lives with their own families, friends, and work, I could rejoice in the new beauty I saw as they grew into the promise of early years, yet there was also bittersweet acknowledgement that a precious window of time closed—family life on this particular level. What helped me in these times, and others like them, was knowing that a new era of life would open up eventually with its own extraordinary beauty.

Each time I needed to accept the change, grieve what was lost, and honor memories. And then I needed to wait patiently until it was time for a new beginning. As a woman of faith, I needed to trust that God was working things out in ways beyond my understanding and that He would bring into my life new relationships, work, or insights which would open the way to new adventures in my life journey with Him.

It is hard to wait, harder still to wait in hope with an open, trusting heart. I have often thought at such times of the answer I would give to young children in my care when, school day over, they waited while all the other children were picked up by a parent or led off to another activity. “When is my mom coming?” they would ask, sometimes with tears. And my answer would always be, “She’ll be here at just the right time.” For young children, waiting is very hard, even agonizing.

Even a two-minute delay feels like forever when everyone else has someone to be with or something wonderful to do. But Mom or Dad or Nanny or Grandparent always did show up eventually and they’d embark on new adventures together, grief eclipsed by the promise of excitement ahead.

In my “wisdom years” now, I’ve lived with chronic pain, cancer, tough challenges to my marriage, deep concerns for my children’s safety as they headed off time and again into dangerous places to do the work they believed God had called them to do, the end of relationships with various family members and friends due to death, moves, changes in work, and many other challenges.

Each loss has needed a time of grieving: remembering the good and trying to learn from the difficult. And always, always, at just the right time—not necessarily the time I would choose but the right time—new opportunities, new challenges, new relationships have emerged. I am given the opportunity to be “re-created” once more. The ashes of loss are real but the promise of new adventures ahead is also real.

I will choose to both honor the beauty of what is gone and welcome the beauty of what lies ahead.

some things that are true about me

My work in life is as a teacher and storyteller.  I take joy in many things – time spent with children and my family and friends, working in various ways for justice, hiking along high mountain ridge lines and walking in the woods and sitting quietly to stare at the ocean, hearing people share their life stories and affirming them, writing and reading, rainy afternoons by the fire with my small grey cat, listening to music and singing and dancing, intelligent conversation and laughter, making a home.  These and other things are true about me but the truest thing is that I am a child of God.