I teach writing for a living and one of the best-known lessons of writing is to ‘write what you know,’ which is a funny thing because that’s the main writing lesson I break. I never write what I know. I tend to write what I want to know.
I write what I call “rogue homilies,” my humble way of inviting people to have awkward conversations about important things, thinks like the subtle spark of the divine we witness in our everyday, often ordinary-feeling lives. I often want to know how I can settle down and settle in, how I can come to the point where I can be content even though I’m in what’s likely the busiest season of my life as a working mother to three kids, ages 15, 5, and 3.
This is true for so many of you who may, although for other reasons, seem to be in the middle of a season—or even a storm—that doesn’t seem to ever let up. These might be seasons of loss, seasons of sickness, seasons of loneliness or boredom or routines that you wish you could shake, or they might be seasons of sadness or seasons of waiting—sometimes for reasons you do not know or may not understand.
No matter the cause, these seasons can cost us dearly. They can make us feel like we’ve lost our footing or even our way altogether. These seasons may even rob us of our sense of progress in life and maybe even our sense of self, as well.
One of those seasons for me was Christmas of 2012. At the time, my son was one, and I was expecting my youngest daughter. For three years, my father had been battling multiple myeloma, a treatable but incurable cancer, and on Christmas morning, he passed away.
When he passed, I remember collapsing into my husband’s arms and kind of feeling like I’d taken the first deep breath I’d taken in years combined with not being able to breathe at all. It was the strangest feeling. It was the same as that ‘it’s over’ feeling I got when I had my first daughter, knowing full well another whole hard thing was just beginning.
Can I tell you what brought rest to me? Ritual and community. Being pregnant with my third child was the greatest gift during this time because life kept stirring amidst the sickness in the room. Light was there in hiding, waiting for me.
Caretaking for my family and even for my father in those last weeks took up residence in my heart and hands so that I could not be taken down by the gravity of the loss that was happening. I saw my mother do the same, take up chores and ways of helping others so that she would not be overcome.
The same morning my father passed, I tried keeping Christmas going with my immediate four, and we went to my in-laws’ house, and I remember collapsing again, this time into my father’s uncle’s arms, basically the first person who I looked into the eyes. My father-in-law, Russ, whisked me away to his office and helped me get through by reminding me that the mind can hold only one thought at a time. He taught me to put a seam between two fingers and just feel it, really examine it, study it. It is like a pause button. It is a temporary stay, but it will buy your heart (and your lungs and your head) time.
As undomestic as I am, I remember the comfort of folding laundry, doing dishes, driving my oldest daughter to dance class, kind of lulled me calm. I fell apart mostly in showers and while alone, so the presence of others was essential. I thought of one of my favorite poets, William Carlos Williams, a lot during this time. One of the phrases he’s known for is “no ideas but in things.” I feel like during this season, I started truly understanding it in practice. The ideas associated with this loss—grief, pain, fear—these were all too much. But things? Things I could manage well enough. I had to manage them, and they served as salve in the waiting.
I gleaned the strangest comfort during this time. We will all pass away, but we do not all pass away at once. And this is how we manage in the midst of grief and loss. We are the web, not the spider.
We must recognize that, where dark is, light will come. In the meantime, we should wait in the open, sharing our stories, our pain, and all our frayed edges. We must be truth-tellers who know that things heal best when exposed to the air.
In the midst of my own darkness, I never, never, never could have imagined I’d be where I am now, helping others get through—especially being in the thick of it myself so many days. But this purposefulness of one’s pain is such a powerful thing. It will sustain you.
Maybe your present experience is not one of pain or grief. Maybe it’s one of exhaustion or frustration. Maybe it’s one of indecision or unfulfilled expectations.
You must, too, know that all along, we’re being equipped and refined for the road ahead. You don’t have to know what’s ahead to believe that, all the while, you’re being readied for it, come what may.
I love this thought from Christine Caine: “Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but actually you’ve been planted.”
Another one I see as a follow-up is the Mexican Proverb that goes, “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
I can take pain, grief, boredom, exhaustion, and even indecision if there’s the promise of purpose in it. And I do believe there is purpose.
When there is numbness instead of good in the morning, I have to hang onto that: purpose is there. And that purpose gives some rest, some peace, some joy—and however meager it is, it is mine—and it is yours for the taking.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Phillippians 4:6-7 (NASB)
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Be grateful for the small things today. In ritual and routine, may you focus on the blessings in your midst and may you begin to expect joy in everything.
What is a miracle in your midst right now, however small it may seem?
How can we carve out time during this season of thanksgiving to reflect on the small blessings all around us?
How can you be a blessing to others during this season to pay forward the grace and the good God has given to you?
Pray: God, thank you for being the one true constant in all things. We know that you are with us in our pain, in our grief, and in our everyday struggles. Help us to recognize the beauty and good around us during this season of thanksgiving so that we can dwell on your blessings and live our lives more fully, more aware, and more abundantly. In Jesus’ name, Amen.