This past year has taught me so much. So much more than I wanted when I asked God to change me from the inside out the last time it was time to resolve to walk better in the new year. My plan was to train for a marathon. Push myself and discover how my body after four pregnancies and four c-sections can do so much more than I once thought it could.
I wanted to read and I wanted to write. I wanted to connect with my husband and make sure I read with each of my four kids, prayed with them, instructed and corrected them faithfully and asked them about their days-each and every day.
And I was able to accomplish some of the above: read pinch more, connect with my husband a tablespoon more and be maybe an ounce more faithful in this role I have called motherhood. I ran a whole lot and actually wrote very little.
But last year was not at all the easy, comfortable, peaceful year I had resolved for myself of loving better, writing more and reading cozy by the fire last time the New Years Ball dropped. It was a year of learning to harness my grief and redefine relationships. And as I’ve poured out my heart in this piece I have decided to only share half of what I learned this past year and follow up in a another piece with the rest.
Grief and relationships. These are my tender places and Brene says,
“When we don’t acknowledge how and where we are tender, we’re more at risk of being hurt.”
Brene Brown, Daring Greatly
Last year the changing from the inside out I asked for actually happened- and not from the comforts of a cozy fire. At times it felt like my very own heart was being ripped out. It’s been an unraveling of what I thought I knew. An unlearning of old patterns. And hopefully so many opportunities to weave new healthier patterns, rooted in who God is and embracing the characteristics of being His daughter instead of patterns rooted in what I thought I should do or what others say I am.
Just when I think I have these tender places all figured out, I feel God calling me back to them, to put off the old and put on the new. To continuously undress and redress.
Then the lion said — but I don’t know if it spoke — ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.
C.S Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader
This year I discovered, if you don’t get to know your grief, look at it in the face, become angry with it, cry about it, ask God why about it, you most likely will never be fully healed.
At the beginning of last year I thought my marathon journey was going to be all about me. All about my fitness goals, all about being a bad-ass. But all those miles around town, on the trail and in my neighborhood were actually opportunities to stare my grief in the face. To wrestle, to find closure, to feel broken and human and to find the peace of God which transcends understanding. Looking like a bad-ass this year was not about medals and PRs but instead finding bad-assery in hurts, tears and anger.
As I ran some, walked some, turned off my headphones in the quietness of the trail I got angry thinking about my mom, why she had cancer for most of my childhood and I became angry about her being gone. I hated cancer as I ran. I cried about how the last time I remember speaking to her was probably over some kind of fight we were having about whether or not I should be allowed to spend the night at someone’s house as a teenager or her last memories of me were finding my cigarettes in my room at thirteen or driving the family minivan through the garage and into the dining room while my dad was at work and my mom was receiving chemo at University of Cincinnati Hospital. I hated myself for being such a difficult raging teenager as my mother was breathing her last breaths.
I asked God why I have had to live through having four kids in four years without a parent to call, without someone to listen, without extra hands and without an unconditional-people-who-you-call-about-things-you-can’t-tell-anyone-else- village. I cried about my kids not having Grandma Shelley. I cried because she missed knowing them, she missed knowing my husband. And I know she would have loved my husband and my kids.
All those miles on the trail, I looked my grief in the face. You can walk with God for a decade, have lost someone two decades ago, read good books on grief and still not look grief in the face.
I never had looked my own grief in the face before. I had never taken the time to be mad and sad, frustrated, disappointed. Those are all nasty feelings and for so long I just wanted to push them down rather than feel them. Picking up my boot straps and burying my hurts was so much easier than learning about this tender place. I put band aids on gunshot wounds and for so long I let myself walk in a false sense of peace, not rooted in anything accept what I thought it looked like to be strong and carry on.
My false sense of peace was a breeding ground for insecurity, false hope, cynicism and a whole lot of feeling sorry for myself.
But in taking hold of my grief, learning how and where I am tender, unraveling my yucky strings, I found the comfort of a God who knows suffering.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
I have found thankfulness. To see past the hurts and see how much God has provided for me along the way. Even when I didn’t deserve it with the cars I put in the dining room and cigarettes my parents found in my bedroom only to name two safe stories with you.
How I was an outsider who was brought in. How I have the right and privilege to not just to resolve to be better once a year, but the access of a child of God to His new mercies every single morning.
After a long year of training and running in memory of my mother my plan was to culminate the journey with a Race for the Cure 5K. Something I had never done before because I feared I would be a hot mess of tears for 3.2 miles.
But as I walked that race with my husband and my four kids I was not at all the hot mess of tears I had imagined. I felt whole. I felt shalom-peace for a moment.
Shalom: peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, tranquility
Shalom-peace. On the other side of the hard journey of looking grief in the face I was thankful. That the road has not been cozy or comfortable but as I look around me I can see big hurts, feel sorry for myself, make the emptiness big or I can see a big God, who knows big hurts, who is walking with me in sorrow and be thankful for the places where he has me now.
Asking God to change you from the inside out is a scary thing. But when you lay back and let God do the work in your heart, when He begins pulling the skins off, it can hurt worse than anything you’ve ever felt. But I promise what comes after the hurt is the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. It is freedom. It is peace. It is shalom.