It’s hard to explain how I’ve been feeling of late. Work is intense. Hobbling around on a broken foot is exhausting. My son Lucas turning eleven is overwhelming. It’s emotional and brings on waves of nostalgia. I remember the day he was born as though it were yesterday. The feel of his tiny little hands against my breast. The baby smell and the wonderful way he had of snuggling up with me and how Emma would come and shove her fingers in his face in awe and big-sister-excitement.
There’s also something desperately sad about things right now. Going through a divorce is the most difficult thing I never wanted to go through – and here I am right in the middle of it. I’m sure that’s part of it. Actually, I know it’s a lot of the emotion of what I’m feeling – failure, shame, sorrow, and a sense of finality. But around and in and through that are other feelings. I have a new sense of gratitude for my family. An overarching sense of thankfulness for my mom and dad and for my mom’s husband, Wayne. They’ve each been present and kind to me. Also for my sisters and for my sister’s husband, who have been a constant balm of love in myriad ways. I also have a new sense of gratitude for friends who quietly watch and love me, and understand the nature of life enough to give me room to live this season out in all its precarious and tenuous emotions.
Life is filled with beauty and wonder and grandeur and also overwhelming loss. There are things that happen we don’t recover from. We make our way through them into something else. We walk through the valley of the shadow of death and can’t possibly stay the same. I feel like I’ve been in this long season of shadow, of hiddenness and heartache, and finally decided to step into a more honest place, and the consequences are overwhelming. And yet, there is a specific kind of strength that comes from telling the truth about ourselves.
My daughter has wanted her own horse to ride for as long as she’s been able to use complete sentences. It’s been the secret and public prayer of her heart. I’ve been at a loss as to how to help her with all the changes in our lives, except to tell her over and over to talk to her grandpa and see if there’s anything he can do to help her. (He’s a horse trainer and has lots of friends in the horse world.) And recently my dad found her a horse to ride. He’s been picking her up on the weekends to take her to the barn, where she gets her fill of all things horse.
Lucas starts Lacrosse today, something he’s wanted to do for months. I got him all signed up and he’ll be off. All to say, they’re growing up, moving into more, finding their way to joy day by day and learning to bear the unbearable with a kind of grace I find remarkably admirable. I feel like I’ve been asking them to bear the unbearable for too many years of their young lives. I’ve asked them to deal with moving countries, with changing schools, changing languages, moving houses, and now … the separation of their parents.
How much is too much?
My good friend is sick with cancer. Another friend’s husband was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. Another friend of mine has had to fight like hell to see his children. Another friend has a sick child. Each one of us has circumstances that require us to bear up under the unbearable and somehow find a way through. Which is what we do. We find a way through.
Some of us must bear up under our own horrible decisions. We’ve made mistakes and can’t undo them. We’ve hurt people and can’t unhurt them. Others of us have hurt ourselves, or we’ve been deeply wounded by loved ones or by broken systems and institutions and can’t find the way to relief. So we go on our way and tell ourselves it doesn’t matter, that it will be okay. But deep down, in the dark places of our hearts, it does matter and sometimes it’s hard to sleep at night. We worry and deal with anxiety. Our hearts race. Our stomachs turn over. Our bodies get sick and can’t seem to heal and we wonder if this is really what it’s all about. Is this as good as it gets?
Yes. It is. This is life. It’s filled with wonder and awe, with beauty and mystery, with love and hope, and also with crushing disappointments and death. But always with new life.
It’s how we approach it that makes the difference.
I don’t have magic solutions. But I do have this … Gratitude is the pathway to joy. And real friendships, honest intimate relationships, heal us. My friend Lupe always says, “We are wounded in community, and we are healed in community.”
There is magic is opening our hearts to our loved ones and letting people into our lives. There is magic in asking for help, in sharing our secrets, in letting people love us. And there is a certain kind of magical restoration in choosing to love someone else, in putting their needs before our own. It breaks the back of loneliness and isolation.
In my favorite novel, Gilead, the Pastor John Ames says God usually gives each of us someone we can honor. To parents he gives us our children. And to children he gives us our parents. It is in honoring the other, the different, the one not like me, that pulls me out of myself into something more.
And it is in giving thanks that the mysteries of life are put in proper perspective and we learn how to somehow bear the unbearable.