I found myself alone at table 1 and as I looked out at the charming scene before me I realized I felt something I had not felt in a very long time, contentment. A deep calm, a sense of having completed a very long and challenging journey, a Hobbit’s journey filled with adventures, peril and purpose. A large portion of that feeling was because this was my last child successfully launched into adulthood and independence but as I watched Taylor dance with his bride, I knew there was more, something deeper. So I began a mental reflection that started that night and lingered for a few days until I arrived at understanding.
I was excited as I entered the plane to fly to Tampa for the wedding; there is something exotic about flying across the country to marry your son off to his own bit of Salsa. In Denver as the cold took our breath away Son#1 and his brown eyed girl joined us and we arrived together in Tampa to the smiles and hugs of the baby Son and his curly haired girl.
The next 2 days were a swirling mad rush of preparation and magical take-your-breath-away kinds of moments. We had dinner that first night just the 6 of us and then the girls left to work on wedding stuff and the 4 of us walked from the restaurant back to the hotel taking the main road which was lit up with twinkling lights. Ybor City (historic Tampa) is so charming and the perfect place for an evening walk with your husband and sons…I linked arms with each boy on either side of me and said in my best wicked witch voice “Now I have you all to myself” and I laughed my wicked witch laugh, I have been a pretty well behaved MOG but sometimes you need a little playful wickedness to lighten all those emotions you are processing.
There was Afternoon Tea with just the girls, a moment of warmth and welcome for us to share and then on the day of the wedding, accidental breakfast with just the four us unplanned by us but arranged by the Holy Spirit who is always at work. It was a conversation of deep connection, growth and love. Our boys were saying to us what we had always taught them. The maturity of their faith and commitment to live what they believe and know to be true and that gentle nudge reminding of us of the truth we have always lived before them. It is funny to hear your own teaching being conveyed back to you. I will always cherish that moment with them, boys no longer but Godly men of character and faith so much like their Dad. Surrender is a powerful thing, when you just choose to enjoy the moment and not try and control it you are positioned for the divine. When you lay down your expectation and just enjoy what is…what is can be pretty amazing.
As I pondered this deep contented feeling I realized that what was reaching to me and why it felt so profound was because of the dark and difficult moments that I have walked through in the years since the last wedding. At Son #1’s wedding we were just starting the beginning of an ugly and horrible journey. My mind and heart were taking me back to private places in my soul that are almost too awful to type or reveal but it is important to tell the truth about perilous travels because that makes the victory in them more human and shows how powerful the sustaining power of grace can truly be.
The thing that is so terrifying in loss, betrayal and trauma of any kind is not just the event but living in the after math. It is walking through the minefield of belief, faith, and hope. How do you process all of it so that you can trust not only people but God? And Yes, I know there are processes, cycles, counseling and scriptures to remind us that He will carry us through it. But if I am totally honest in the deepest part of the night where everything looks the scariest and where hope goes to die… Exhaustion and despair scream the loudest. It feels like if you could just close your eyes and never wake up that would be wonderful. You wonder how bad it would hurt to just lie on Hwy 50 in the middle of the night and let someone run you over. You wonder how to get drugs enough to stop your breath without landing you in jail first. And there are moments when you simply must systemically talk yourself off the ledge.
It is not because you don’t believe God will redeem, it is not because you don’t know that all things work together for good, it is not because you don’t believe there are legions of people praying provision and redemption for you…you know all these things are true. It is because you are too emotionally exhausted to care, it is because you know just surviving this trauma is on some days a full time job. You can’t ever imagine feeling content again. And when you scroll through Face book and see all those quirky signs (by whoever the popular christian encourager of the day is) about… not looking behind you… there are greater days ahead…blah blah blah…Your truest response is can I just punch you in the face right now? And of course I mean that in a “Christian Way” as Rich Wilkerson occasionally quips.
Forget the past? Leave it behind? Really?! I am who I am because of all of that…I lived and loved deeply there. I cannot disconnect parts of myself and pretend they never were so I can chase something that may never happen? Not every story in this life gets the David-crowned-King moment, not every story ends with Joseph’s brothers kneeling in humility before the one they so horribly wronged, and not every story ends in the double portion return of Job.
Some stories end in the quiet dignity and strength of Uriah, the Hittite. Preachers rarely if ever preach about Uriah. Why? Because there is no perfect narrative Arc with a big victory at the end. In the story of David and Bathsheba the only person who acts with integrity and honor is Uriah, and for this he is murdered. That will never be a pretty FB slide, “Do what is right and you will be the only who doesn’t survive the sin and evil done to you by those closest to you.” It doesn’t make for good think-positive-sermon writing either.
But it is biblical and it does happen. Uriah can’t stop his King from taking his wife to bed and his love did not keep Bathsheba from being unfaithful, he was in a situation he could not control because of the sin in another’s heart. But he did do the one thing he could do he did not contribute to the sin by covering it up, this choice cost him his life but he retained his honor and his dignity. Of course he knew as he walked to the fiercest part of the battle why he was going there and who had sent him. Betrayed twice by the king he served and sentenced to death because of it. But his name and legacy is one of faithfulness and obedience.
Sometimes the victory is not in big moments of redemption where the betrayal you have experienced is recognized by all and you are exonerated completely. Sometimes the victory comes from the quiet dignity of not doing what seems the easiest way to stop the pain and questions but by simply continuing to breathe, question, and feel. Sometimes holding on doesn’t come from deep theological or spiritual reasons but because you love someone enough to keep making hard choices.
In those dark places deep in the night, the only thing that really helped me to hold on was the realization that Taylor was not finished yet. He had not graduated college and he had not found the girl that would heal his heart and walk with him through life. The “Mom” in me could not leave this world either physically or mentally without that being done first. So that thought would hold me, and I would choose to wake-up to pain, anger, questions and emotional exhaustion for another day. Each day God’s mercies were new, each day there was grace to make it through what felt impossible. Each day choosing to be honest with God about my feelings, questions, and unbelief… until one day I was sitting at Table 1 feeling a simple contentment that I had begun to wonder if I would ever feel again and almost unbelieving that I had survived all those dark nights and their terrifying propositions.
Later that night lying in bed smiling about all of the details of the wedding and its beautiful moments my phone buzzed with a text message. One of the gifts of brokenness is that you are privileged to be trusted by others who are walking their own traumatic journey. The text read quite simply “I am reaching out because I just want to end my life because I cannot take it anymore…I just want it to be over.”
And here I was full circle, knowing exactly how she felt, no judgment or trite refrigerator verse response just a simple answer…” it doesn’t feel like it right now but it will get better and that there are a lot of life moments you simply do not want to miss.”
I applauded her courage to be honest and to reach out for accountability. I did not promise that there would be redemption or a happy ending but that she was needed in the lives of those that love her and that someday there would be a moment she would be glad she chose to wake up to pain, hardship, challenge and God’s daily emotional provision.
That someday surviving the horrific would be victory enough, the quiet dignity of continuing the journey with your miniscule faith in tact and even though it may have been messy and faltering you did what was right, what was hard, and what felt impossible. And at the end maybe not some big showy sign of miraculous intervention but of grace given moment by moment as needed and the ability to accept it and to walk on regardless of how impossibly painful each step was to complete.
As I realized that I could feel content at this place in life, content to know that I can trust and question God at the same time, Content to not give into the trite and ridiculous but to be courageous enough to evaluate and ponder and live in non answers and savor the promise from I Corinthians:
“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
Or the version I prefer
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
In the New Year I pray moments of contentment for you and yours.Moments that are quiet and reflective, moments of courage to do what you know is right and moments to savor the small victories that are not often recognized.
And for those waking up to unimaginable loss and trauma, I pray grace over you and for you. And I am sorry that your heart is broken and I am sorry that you must walk this difficult road. Please just continue to breathe because for today that is victory enough.