When you’re grieving, hope is the thing that carries you.

I keep having this vision in my head. 

I’m outside, walking. 

The sky is gray and wild. It’s raining, and the wind is battering my face as I ascend upward,  my feet digging into the side of a hill. I’m alone, surrounded by walls of gray above me and green before me. As I reach the top, I look to the closed, storming sky that is spilling out for miles above the rising slopes, unfolding in gray upon gray, cloud upon cloud.

And I shout. 

I scream. 

At first, it’s just blistering shouts of anger barely puncturing the air as it feels like I am heaving every drop of malice that I have ever stored up inside of me out into this great precipice of nothing. I scream because it feels like there is nothing good in me anymore, so why not unleash the torrent of bitterness that’s locked inside of me.

At first, I feel relief. 

Before long, though, the relief fades and the shouts turn to haggard wails as hot tears begin to pour out of me like the rain from the clouds on high. 

When I have released every drop of venom that I possibly can, the howls start, and I can’t stop. I crumple to the ground as the rain is still pouring, the wind now lapping angrily at the sides of my face. Now, I feel naked against the indifferent gray sprawl in front of me as the sorrows pour out openly from me the way the rivers dump into the ocean.

The way it feels like it is always going to be. 

Then I snap out of it. 

This is a confrontation, the one I want to have with God. In my mind, I feel huge as I march myself up that hill. I know what I’m going to say. I have been keeping score, and I know the ways that I have been wronged, and I assuredly climb to the top to receive my just recompense.

I will make someone answer for each offense that I have kept note of.

But when I finally stand at the top, and I let my full-throated anger and indignation loose, I realize that my screams are barely even audible over the wind and rain. I realize that my aching is but a dot against the horizon. A drop of rain into the ocean.

I finally feel like I am nothing. 

We went to the beach a few weeks ago, and my three children each had different perceptions of the ocean. One felt free when he was rushing headlong  into the waves. Another inched further and further out from shore the more comfortable and confident she got. And then there was the littlest, who did not trust me at first. 

As she stood looking out and registering the size of the ocean and her place among everything, she realized truly how small she is. She shrank back as the waves foamed at her ankles. But I was there, behind her, assuring her that I would keep her safe. 

She swallowed salt water a few times, and was sent spilling over backwards a few more. But she learned to navigate the inward and then outward flow of the water, and found my hands to hold on to when she knew that she needed to.

She still fell. She still cried. But in she went.

Now, God has His back pressed to me as I sit in the church pew indifferent and miles away and angry. And He says that he is looking out after me. No, He says that He moves before me, in ways that split seas open to guard my steps.

I will never be carried away, even though right now I want to be. I want to escape to where I don’t feel watched, so that I can unfurl these clenched fists in secret, and let hostility spill out of me.

For all of my inward thrashing, there is still nothing I can do. 

In other moments, I have a different vision of me. 

I’m climbing the same face of the same hill. My steps are still heavy, my grief still real. The face of the sky still upon me, and, yes, still angry. The sadness and enmity are still turning over and over inside of me. 

When I reach the top this time, carrying with me all of the losses and wrongs that I have tallied, at that moment, as I see the gray spilling out infinitely in front of me, those numbers are suddenly lost to the great expanse of everything, to the miles upon miles that we tread if we are fortunate enough.

Instead of hurling venom, this time I just say thank you into the wind. And while that quiet thank you is just a whisper, my shaky eucharisteo is carried beyond the wall of gray.

And suddenly, the pain that’s wrapped itself around my hurting heart is paled in comparison to hope. 

The anger that poured out of me before fell sharply to the ground like stones, but my thanks has wings, it’s the thing that carries me for miles beyond the storm. Disentangling wildly over hills of calamity, uncertainty and chaos. 

Hope is the thing that carries you.

Hope is the thing that carried our cross up a different hill, transcending veils between creator and man, past and future, life and death.

A cross borne into the back of the One, stinging him with each step, each strike, each nail. And with each step tread, marking the Earth in His suffering, He says that as we so suffer, He has suffered along with us before us. And surely He suffered the cost of hope more greatly than we.

Hope is sometimes the thing that hurts.

But hope is also the thing that saves. 

 

The Middle

I’m a middle child.

And there were times where I straight up hated being in the middle when I was growing up. 

I wasn’t old enough to be the one proudly trumpeting, “mom put me in charge!” over the  unfolding chaos or even the television remote. Then at age seven, I became a reluctant big sister, and was promptly cast aside to make way for the “runt” of the litter (sorry, little sister.)

I had to vacate my mom’s lap, and share her affections with the tiny thing that pooped and shrieked seemingly nonstop. I had no authority, or so I was reminded of by my older “mom said so!” sister, and I didn’t get the luxury of being babied because, “mommy can’t right now.”

It was not the tops. 

The middle is dangerous ground. 

Lukewarm bathwater. The middle seat on an airplane. You get the idea.

Nobody likes the middle. Save for the middle of a tootsie pop or Oreos. When it comes to food, the center can hold delicious surprises if we just keep at it. But in the context of adulting and life? No one really likes the middle. Being in the middle means being in transition. 

And people like the idea of transition possibly even less than they do the middle.

I’m in the middle right now.

I’m the woman in labor, fighting the terror in her body, willing herself not to push because it isn’t time yet. Breathe it out. Just wait for the release. Let what’s going to happen happen. I can’t see that light at the end of the tunnel through the pain and disenchantment. It’s real. The fear. All of it. 

Guys, I am so scared. 

I am learning a new way to be. A new way to see things. Even though I know that things really aren’t all that different than they were before. What was true yesterday is going to be truth tomorrow even if my insides have been eviscerated. My dad is gone. I miss him so, so much. But his love is as true today as it was when he was here, in the body, still with me. What’s different now is that he’s gone.

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What’s different after all that is me.

It’s like the aftermath of a comet striking the Earth. A volcanic eruption. A raging wildfire. The Earth is not even settled yet from the harsh, shattering, indiscriminate destruction. Because it’s not time. It’s not time to be okay. 

There isn’t release. Not yet. 

While I’m still sorting through the rubble North is still North, but it’s just not time to move on yet.  

When we bought our old house, we had the backyard tilled and grated. There was so much junk back there that we filled an entire rolloff dumpster and still had some left over.

That was more than eight years ago. 

Occasionally, on warm days when we are enjoying barefoot afternoons, we notice new remnants and relics poking through the dirt. Glass. Bolts and screws. Small bottles. Rusted pieces of copper even. 

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The Earth is purging itself slowly as feet disturb the dirt, as the rains wash away more soil. It’s cleansing itself.

My children see hidden treasures when they find something new to explore with a magnifying glass and I have to strain to see it through their eyes. I see something that was once useful, but not anymore. Something we don’t need to keep and that should committed to the trash can for fear of tetanus. 

Sometimes, though, we find something worth saving. 

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We separate the useless from the useful, the things worth saving from the things we don’t need anymore. It’s this slow process, this waiting for something to emerge. You clean what you can the best you can, and still, next year when the spring rains return, more that’s hidden will be revealed. And we will sort. 

Now is the time for sorting. And remembering. And for hurting. 

It’s the middle. 

It’s terrifying. It’s real. 

I’m worried that nothing good will ever come out of me again. When will I remember who, and what I am? 

We are here now. In the aftermath. And we know that brokenness will bring new life. 

It’s just not time for that. 

Not yet. 

 

The world has caved in. 

The worst has happened. 

And I’m still here.

Yesterday marked three weeks since my father passed away. And if it’s even possible, I hurt worse as of today than I did then. 

I’ve had three weeks to stew on everything and yet I haven’t even had the chance to catch my breath. It was a week ago that the tears poured down my face on a car ride home, when the sky turned the clouds pink and I realized how much I missed my father. 

And that I could never tell him such a thing. 

The edges of the leaves are beginning to turn yellow, the grass is browning, and we are all nearly reminded that death is beautiful. Even though it isn’t always. 

We went to the ocean yesterday, the shores we all used to visit collectively as a family, and I flicked off my flip flops and carried them laced between my fingers as I walked barefoot on the boardwalk the way I used to. 

It was the way the smooth, wooden planks were almost too warm on the bottoms of my feet. The way the sand stuck between my toes pricked my feet, and the sound from the gulls floating on invisible ribbons of air.

It was a hurricane of memories, that hurt and healed at the same time. 

It was the pain and comfort of knowing that time keeps going, and we have no choice but to be beholden to it. 

It’s too soon for lessons. I haven’t grieved enough.

One moment, I couldn’t breathe because I was watching the elderly ladies in their wheelchairs as they made their way down the boardwalk, pushed by a caregiver, and I realized that one day,  I’ll be old, too. And it will seem that these days I am working so hard to appreciate now after all that has happened were gone any way in the blink of an all too fast, unseen eye.

Nothing we can do stops the sand from running out in the hourglass, the thread from unspooling. And yet, my aching heart fights against the currents of grief to find the meaning and realness in each day. Which is maybe why it hurts. The flesh and the spirit are at war. They dance around each other sadistically and methodically. 

The flesh says all is for naught, it’s no use. The flesh says that we all end up as dust, committed again to the earth, so what is the point, really, but to live for our own fleeting pleasure and selfishness?

While the spirit meanwhile says that we are made for, and of greater things. That we never really control the outcome even when we think that we do, so we should just accept what has been and what will be, before it even gets here. We merely get to make peace and try not to stand in its way. 

And somewhere in there, the memory of my time growing up punctures through everything that is spinning on a loop. Memories I want to crawl inside of and rest in. 

The way the rain drops dripped from the barn roof on gray, summer days, and pooled into a tin basin on the ground. The way the chickens huddled in the beams across the ceiling, beads of rain collecting at the end of their feathers as they hid. 

The way I could always look out in the yard, and somewhere, dad would be walking. Watching. Assessing. The grass, the shrubs, the limbs of the trees. The state of things. 

Before long, I’m snapped out of those memories, and my insides are screaming. Because they’re all over. Because we are walking pods of waking dust. Every one of us. Every president, every blue collar worker. All of us. We are flesh, and what and who’s around us are the negative space that makes up our lives and maybe that’s the best that we can hope for.

I turn sour. Will I grow bitter towards everything else that’s good?

Or will I let it heal me?

Right now, I rage and I storm. But flowers and trees grow after storms. Seeds that are planted in upheaved, raw Earth transform. I know that in pain, and suffering, there is glory. There is eventually life. After transition.

Now is the time in which I decide. 

This is when the devil reminds me, Did God REALLY say?

That our bond is unbreakable, that I would never be snatched from his hand? Who’s am I? Who am I?

Now is the time that I ask, while I wait. The waiting isn’t easy. The transition is hell. It can’t be assuaged by pretty words. It cannot be moved. It has to happen. 

That’s how we know we are still alive.