As I put on my makeup one morning in September, bracing myself for another day, I distinctly remember feeling that I wished I could just be “me” again and not this drained and exhausted being that seems to inhabit my body. I didn’t used to have to try so hard to be happy or even wake up in the morning. I used to be able to simply choose clothes to wear for the day, instead of feeling like I’m putting on a costume for a play called “The Happy Teacher/Friend/Family Member”. And then I realized that this is me. A new me. A new normal. And I needed to figure out who I was all over again.
Grief and tragedy don’t just happen for a moment. Sometimes in an instant life changes, but that’s just it, life changes. An event has occurred that has created a new normal. Sometimes the catalyst for change is something wonderful like graduating school, getting married, having a child, getting a new job…and other times it is something hard like finally realizing you need to get out of an abusive marriage, losing a loved one, losing your job.
When changes are hard we tend to lose things. We lose the hopes and dreams we had built, we lose the ease with which happiness once came, we can even lose a bit of ourselves. But I would also argue that we have so very much to gain out of loss, if we allow ourselves the opportunity.
Recently my husband and I escaped to the beach for a weekend. A short little vacation to our favorite cabin up on a hill overlooking this stunning view. It was set to be perfect, actually sunny weather (a rarity for the Oregon Coast) and a long walk on the beach was just what our hearts needed. Unfortunately that morning Ben got a horrible headache and lay down to try and sleep it off but I still felt the call of the ocean. I put on my giant, sleeping-bag of a coat (because even if it looks sunny it’s normally windy and cold down on the beach) and set off. Normally I would plug in my headphones and listen to music as I walked but I had just started listening to a new podcast on my commutes to work and thought I would give that a try instead (besides, if I got too bored I could always switch to music).
In her podcast, The Glorious in the Mundane, Christy Nockels was interviewing Annie Downs (from back in 2016, I’m a little behind in the podcast times and just found this one). As I walked along the beach, by myself, God used that podcast and the words of those wonderful women to speak truths into my life that I needed to hear.
They talked, laughed, reminisced and made me so wish I lived in the South! As they discussed the book that Annie Downs wrote, Looking for Lovely, my heart was overwhelmed by how perfect God’s timing is. I wasn’t behind the times in finding the podcast, I was right in God’s timing. God knew that my heart would need to hear Annie talk about hope, and how it isn’t a Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), or something that comes easily, when I was in a place of holding onto merely a shred of hope and feeling even that slip through my fingers.
That day, that walk, God knew that it was what my heart needed. That reminder that hope isn’t the easy choice but it is worth it! I loved that walk, and the way God used it to speak truths into my heart.
Fast-forward to a week later only this time, I’m at home sitting on my couch with a sinus infection missing a swim championship I had really wanted to be at and forgetting, already, that hope does not come easy. This was week 4 of being sick and I had started feeling that my body would never be (relatively) healthy again. I picked up my copy of Looking for Lovely (because of course I ordered it as soon as I got back to the cabin), while keeping tabs on the swim meet results online, and started the chapter titled “Tragedy”. First, let me say that I am pretty sure this book was written just for me! God knew how to find someone who’s life experiences and feelings I could so relate to and had her write it down knowing I would need to read it (awkward sentence but just roll with me here because I’m doing my dump truck thing). The first two chapters alone describe how I have felt much of my life, including having similar health issues! Anyway, back to the chapter “Tragedy”, that starts out with my life verse, the verse I feel God chose just for me (so much so that I have it permanently inked on my body, but more on that in some other blog post), and I was already hooked. It starts with Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Such a wonderful reminder that we are not expected to walk this path alone.
And then, her words. Her words summed up what I have been trying to embrace in these last months since losing Verity Grace, but she puts it much better than I so I want to share her words with you now. I tried to pair it down but, well, I just couldn’t because it’s all good so brace yourselves for a long quote (possibly formatted incorrectly because I am still new to this whole blogging thing).
It’s not about pretending everything is beautiful and nothing is ugly and you have no questions or doubts and picking out the beautiful in your everyday is going to protect you from anything hurting ever. It’s about feeling the pain, letting the suffering be part of your life, embracing the Romans 5:3 moments so you can process through the Romans 5:4 days so you can live a Romans 5:5 hope-filled life. If you aren’t experiencing pain, you aren’t experiencing beauty. Darkness makes us appreciate the beauty of the light. If you aren’t allowing yourself to feel the hurt, sadness, loneliness, and disappointment this fallen world has to offer, you aren’t feeling the fulness of the joy and beauty the redeemed moments have to offer. There is nothing beautiful about tragedy…But there is beauty in choosing to feel that pain, in calling it what it is, and not pretending everything is okay. Whatever tragedy you have experienced or are currently living through, the most beautiful thing you can do is LIVE. Keep walking, keep weeping, keep eating. Don’t ignore the hurt. Don’t attempt to avoid it and just move on with your life. Feel it all, and invite people in to feel it with you.
The idea of being okay with the sadness and the pain, but still looking for the lovely and the hope has been my goal. I am not always good at it. Some days the sadness overwhelms and the despair weighs me down so much I would rather not move from my bed. But then there are days, moments, that I see the lovely and the beauty in the pain and through the pain.
Recently my girl’s bible study group listened to a sermon by Graham Cooke where he talked about being in the wilderness and how the wilderness reduces our descriptions down to nothing, revealing who we truly are and teaching us how to depend on God and who He is. In that sermon he emphasizes the idea of an “…and yet” statement. Take Job for example, a man who suffered tragedy upon tragedy and yet he still trusted in God. Or the book of Lamentations, where the “and yet” statement can be seen in the middle of pain, panic and fear and yet that belief that God is still good. Sorrowful and yet rejoicing. In pain and yet God is good. When our circumstances feel relentless, we can also experience how relentless God is, something I often forget. As my wonderful bible study leader Anne pointed out, “God asks us to step into our pain to receive our ‘yet’ moment. This happens only in brokenness and humility.” Or as my friend Taylor so beautifully said, “God doesn’t ask us to deny or ignore the pain or hardship, but to believe in the ‘yet’.” And so I am working on looking for the “and yet” moments each and every day and would encourage you to do the same. What are some of your “and yet” moments? If you would be bold enough to share, I would love to hear ways in which you have been able to experience the power of an “and yet” statement in your life. You can either comment, or if it is something you would rather share with just me, please feel free to reach out through the “Contact” section.