those three words

 

I always thought that those three words, I love you, were the hinge upon which love rested.

Without them, it was absent – and so I’ve spent a lifetime sprinkling those words in conversations, written at the end of letters, and slipped into hugs goodbye.

And there’s nothing wrong with those words. They are beautiful, and truthful, and carry a heart of meaning. But I wonder if maybe we spend so much time waiting for someone to tell us they love us –

when they’ve already shown us. And we’re so busy listening that we forget to see, too.

Love was never meant to be relegated to three words. It was always meant to be a life lived sacrificed. 

Love is devoid of meaning if there is no action. Words only tell us so much – but a life lived sacrificed teaches us that love is found in spite of and because of

those three words.

It shows up when one drives an hour to bring you the spare keys.

It’s found in the embrace of holding close enough so that your tears mix with theirs.

And it’s found when laughter intermingles with your own, because joy is best felt when its shared.

I wonder if love is best received with hands held open – rather than waiting for those three words. Because maybe then we’ll realize that life is one big love story,

and there will always be enough love,

with or without those three words.

 

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Helplessness

It’s the words that come on a grey day, the fall temperatures finally making their way through the open window. It’s a week when memories have returned along with the cool temperatures, when you feel as if you’re the same person you were months ago because you can’t figure things out. You can’t even put feelings into words and you come to the Lord with this apology:

I’m sorry for being a broken record. Really, I’m sorry for being broken. Because I’ve failed at figuring things out, and I’ve failed at fixing it all.

But the best part about honest prayers is this:

God reaches down, and He reminds you of the truth your soul needs:

healing always begins with helplessness.

Because the truth is: we cannot heal ourselves. We cannot fix ourselves. It might break you to know this, but this is what I know to be true: it is not until we hold our empty hands up and let the marred hands hold them that true Healing begins.

We cannot invite healing in until we realize we aren’t the ones that usher it into our brokenness.

He is.

And the brokenness we cloak in shame, the tears we get frustrated by – they are all heart longings for the only One who makes us whole.

God.

The Valley of Baca

He tells me in his little office that I should think about reading the Psalms.

“There’s a lot in there,” he says slowly, “and it seems to me that David has a lot to say. He expresses his wishes, his hurts, his pain.” He pauses. “And God doesn’t strike him down.”

He says all this to me after I tell him I have a hard time asking God for things. Feeling as if it’s a question of His plan. I leave his office and as I drive home in rush hour traffic, tears stream down my face and I do. I let my heart pour out like David’s did.

Days later, I am still devouring the Psalms. I’m paying attention to the patterns, the words. David says some wild things, crazy things. But he says a lot of beautiful things, too.

 

There is a Psalm that talks about a place called the Valley of Baca. A place that as they walk through, turns into a place of springs and pools of rain water. This valley, some say, was part of the journey to get to Jerusalem or to one of the cities of refuge. Dry, treacherous, dangerous – this valley needed to be walked through in order to get to where the Israelites were going. Some translations call the Valley of Baca the Valley of Weeping – and I am struck by these verses – how the Israelites had to literally walk through the valley of weeping to get to a place of safety and refuge.

David talks about how that valley of weeping is redeemed. How those who rest in the refuge of God find the dry valley filled with springs of water.

To be honest there have been times since that night in his office that I tell God I can’t do it. I can’t walk through sadness, and I can’t walk through pain, and I long for it fixed and made right. But He whispers, to my tired, reluctant soul –

“The Valley of Weeping is meant to be walked through.”

I am always so quick to push away pain. To wipe away tears. Feeling as if, the sooner I get to the other side the better.

But yet – it’s meant to be walked through.

And I sigh deeply, tears brimming – knowing He redeems each valley –

filling them with springs

and pools of water –

because even this is not far from His redemptive touch.

the little things.

imageI think sadness reminds us to notice the little things. Grief can be paralyzing. You notice the heaviness in your face as you force yourself to lift your lips into a smile. You notice the way the bricks are speckled and grooved because you can’t focus on anything but the wall in front of you. You notice the bright colour of green vines that sprawl up the building and you thank God that beauty still, always, exists.

And mostly you remember the sound of your breathing, shaky, but constant in a new world that’s not.

And that’s enough. That’s the redemption you can cling to, that in a new world that’s feeling a little more broken than it was yesterday, there is always, always, the little things.

Unexpected Welcomes

The memories are vivid. I hadn’t really expected them to welcome us onto the campsite. I hadn’t even expected the swarms of mosquitoes, really – but least of all, had I expected the memories. Blue tarps covering the leaking tent to protect us from rain. First tastes of gelato. Grumpy, drenched family members. Raccoons visiting in the night.

It was our last family camping trip.

And as I stuff newspapers into my teepee of kindling, I wrestle with the familiar feelings of sadness that I thought had long since disappeared into previous chapters of my story. I am not ready for the grief and the tears to revisit.

Meg sits across from me, the fading fire flickering in the darkness, as I offered her my questions and my sadness. How do you be okay with sadness? I wonder. How do you know when you’ve finally moved forward? Or can you move forward and heal and still be sad?

“I just don’t know,” she says. “I just don’t know if it will ever really go away.”

And before us the fire is dying, and I try and I try to get it going again. The embers are bright but the flames are few.

“You can let it go,” she says to me.

Oh but I can’t. I am determined. The one thing I cannot seem to ever control is grief, or push away my sadness even as years pass me by. But the one thing I should be able to succeed at is starting a damn fire.

But I don’t.

So we brush our teeth, and we slip into bed, and it isn’t until we’ve finally quieted and settled onto air-filled mattresses that we see it.

Flickers of the fire, reflecting onto the tent. It’s finally alive.

And maybe, that’s just it. Maybe I need to stop fighting sadness and putting it into pretty boxes and scripting it out on timelines. Maybe, maybe, I just need to be and let life and God lead me as I fall into moments of sadness. Maybe it doesn’t get better but it sure does get easier. And maybe this heart of mine needs to stop questioning feelings and just let them be.

And maybe it’s when I stop fighting, and trying to fix things, and just make everything better – just like that fire – that’s when healing and new life and beauty come alive.

Half Moons

I’m outside, a half moon before me, wrapped in a fleece blanket. This is my happy place.

I found this place a few dozen moons ago, on a rooftop overlooking Asamankese. Those were a hard few months. I was stretched and sucker punched in ways I don’t know if I’ve even grasped, yet. I talk about those days. Some days I regret leaving. Other days I breathe a prayer of thanks. But mostly, I remember the moon.

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Almost every night, after we’d eaten and the night had dropped quickly, we’d climb up onto the roof with our Bibles and an iPod and maybe a blanket. We’d sit on the scratchy cement roof, the scuffling of lizards making their way away from our spot, and we’d talk. We’d pray. Sometimes we’d sit in silence. Sometimes I would be alone, and other times the three of us would gather together. But consistently, always, there was the night sky, and there was God.

In that place on that roof, with the smell of smoke thick in the air and the sounds of dishes being washed in tin basins around us, I learned a simple lesson: when life seems like it’s the hardest thing to do, my eyes need to turn back to the One who put me here in the first place. When my eyes are on Him – not on what’s around me – it’s then I can finally breathe.

And so when I’m in that place again, when things are falling around me and I’m drowning, I go back to the place I know He’ll be. I sit at His feet and I stare at the moon and I am reminded.

It’s been a sign of His faithfulness in some of the hardest and best of seasons. It was a full moon the night she walked down the aisle and a chapter of our childhood was closed. It was a full moon when I showered in the dark of a Senegalese night on a trip I thought I’d never take. I could whisper to you every night that when I needed the reminder, and looked outside, the reminder was there.

And so tonight, it’s a half moon as I wrap myself in a fleece blanket and ask God why I am still here and she is not.

And He reminds me to breathe.

And He reminds me that I need Him more than I need answers.

That I need presence more than I need words.

And so I thank Him for the adventure, the life ahead of me, the days stretched long and the peace that surrounds me. He is good and He is faithful,

just as He is faithful to let night fall and a small ray of moonlight dance across my face.

Sprinkles of Hope

We are sitting in the living room, she in the oversized chair, and I in the fur-covered couch. There’s a joke about the amount of fur floating in the living room, and then there’s grief. Just grief. It’s heavy in the living room, and in between the conversation, in the silence, there is the sound of children laughing outside.

Life goes on, the laughter reminds me. When we want to sit and stay in the moment, cry, grieve, life simply goes on. What has been stolen from us is not noticed in the laughter and in the cars driving by. We are broken but they keep moving.

I remember the day after I found out my Mom was moving out, and as I walked, empty, through the hallways of school, I wondered, did I look different? Did I look as wounded as I was on the inside? Did people know that the person I was yesterday no longer inhibited this body?

I felt the same way two weeks ago when I received the news of Karin’s passing. I couldn’t be alone, just yet, so I wandered through Winner’s, moving the shirts one by one by one but really I was focussed on the strangers around me. Did they know a hole had been created that wouldn’t be filled – nor, perhaps did I want it to be?

I am not quite sure how to handle change – it’s like the moment I think I have myself figured out, something shakes me and I’m different again. I think that’s really the hard part about change. It’s not the change itself … but it’s leaving behind who you used to be. You have to figure out how to be again.

And the new you is different, and it’s strange. There’s new feelings of sadness, or a wound that is tender, or a heart that feels deeper than it did before. It’s not all bad. It’s just you have to figure out how it’s good, too. And that’s the journey. Finding the hope sprinkled in the pain.

It’s there. It just takes a little while to figure out where.

But it’s there.

 

 

Puzzle Pieces

The razor is dull.

I knew it was before I packed it. But I packed it anyways.

The water is rushing beside me as I rub the conditioner on my legs. I can hear her outside in the living room, as we all rush around to get ready for Thanksgiving dinner. My brother is shaving in the sink behind me, and I hear my sister ruffling through her makeup bag in the hallway. The smell of turkey is wafting through the house.

As I slide the dull razor up my leg, it hits me.

That familiar punch of sorrow.

“It shouldn’t be her out there,” I whisper to God in the midst of the running water. I hear my dad’s girlfriend again, and I swallow the lump in my throat. “It should be my Mom.”

He gently responds, “I know.”

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Continue reading “Puzzle Pieces”

A Story Bigger Than Me

I visited their graves today.

Stirling and Daryl.

Sometimes I stumble over their names because they aren’t used very often. I don’t even know how to refer to them, really. Do I refer to them as my grandparents? As my Dad’s parents?

Stories of their lives are few and far between, I assume because the memories are blanketed by sorrow. We will most likely watch our parents die, but not when we are sixteen. I grew up knowing that they had died, knowing there were a few pictures of them scattered about the house, and knowing where they had lived and what they had done.

But I didn’t know what made them laugh. I didn’t know what recipes my Grandmother made for Thanksgiving dinner, or if my Grandfather smoked a pipe on the steps of his store.

It was my first experience of feeling another’s loss: of being desperately sad for my Dad and the loss of his parents. And then, as I grew older, it was my first taste of grieving what wouldn’t be.

There would be no second set of grandparents at school assemblies.

There would be a couple missing at every wedding, at every funeral.

There would be no conversations that began with, “When your dad was young …”

It’s a loss that I wonder about. Even though they passed away long before I was born, they are still a part of me. And I wonder about that part. I wonder what of them I carry with me.

But what they’ve taught me in their absence is to live well. To live between the beginning and the end as fervently as I can. To love deeply, to remember that my life, no matter how short or how long, impacts the next generation. I am a part of a story bigger than me.

Just as Stirling and Daryl were.

Those Hands of Loss

It’s at the top of the stairs I find myself falling, falling into the hands of loss. It finds me in these strange places. There is makeup to be put on, my bag to be unpacked, my rain jacket to be found. But I can’t move. It always seems to be that in the moments when I least want to hear them that I do: I hear those memories echoing in the silence of a quiet house. I wonder at the pain it must bring to be a parent in an empty house, one that was never supposed to be empty. I wonder and hurt at the intense loneliness that this breaking brings.

My hand drops from the knob and I take the stairs. One at a time, I whisper to myself. That’s all. Just one. step. at. a. time. And it’s hard not to fall over, in this grip of loss, because it’s only in these rare moments loss has its opportunity to stare at me face to face. Oh sure, it seems to always be there, but most days it seems more like an unwelcome companion.

It does not always have the boldness it has today.

And I walk by the boxes that fill the basement, and the boxes contain the memories that refuse to be left safely inside. Because there are journals open, with her scrawl across them, that remind me of that other life. There are letters and framed photographs that once graced the wall of a family home. They once told a story. And now their story is in a box, in a basement, hidden away.

And I stop walking. Because loss is too heavy. It stops me in my tracks, and I’m frozen there until the crunch of gravel in the driveway outside brings me back.

Because there’s makeup to be put on, a bag to be unpacked, and a jacket to be found. And so I leave the journals and stories in their boxes. And I walk away.