Yesterday, after a fantabulous and snuggly and insular holiday with my kiddos, I was riding in the car with my sweet Amelia. She said, “Mom, can you believe next year you will have a junior in college and a junior in high school…doesn’t that make you feel old?” I hesitated, considering that she was now old enough to know my true answer. “No,” I said, “Because years ago when I got diagnosed with cancer, honestly, they weren’t really sure I would make it. I prayed to live to see these things come to pass. Yes, I know lots of people who complain about getting older, but not me, because everything I get to live to see is a bonus to me.”
She got quiet; an interesting moment in our lives indeed.
Truth is, for me this last year was brutal for a myriad of reasons. A close friend hurt me. People I love hurt me. Very, very important things were taken from me. In this last twelve months, all that I knew and felt certain about the world and my place in it was shaken and fractured. The icing on the shitcake this year was being faced with losing my home; my haven in all that has transpired in my roller coaster life these last 10 years. It seemed that every month when bills came the house was being mentally disassembled in my head, as I wondered how long I could hang on.
“It’s surreal” I said over and over. “It seems impossible that in a fair and just world this could possibly be happening.” I had been a good friend, a good parent and a hard worker. I had kept my chin up and played by the rules. I had been kind in the face of being poked at and generous in the face of it all. I wrestled with the notion of the impossibility that people could be so cruel and be capable of rubbing salt into my already deep and painful wounds. I was in shock that things could be so easily taken.
Mostly though, I fought with reality that there was nothing I could do about it, not a darn thing…and believe me I tried.
Deeply hurt, feeling helpless to change it, I got depressed. Very depressed.
And I am here to tell you that it is a really dark and scary place to be.
It really was the first time since cancer that something took me down. But with cancer, I could turn the solution over to my cancer dream team. It was easier to admit my powerlessness back then and default to the experts. But with things this year, it was up to me to figure out how to find my way out. Yet it seemed that everything I did to effect the change I wanted, failed. I hit wall after wall. I had continuous small leaps of hope only to fall into even deeper chasms, over and over and over again.
I think it was the first time in my adult life I have felt so powerless.
While I really do appreciate that the rules of the game of surviving cancer are such that you are not only living to see the good, but also living to go through the bad, it was brutal.
I prayed and prayed and prayed…Anne Lamott-ish prayers while lying in the sleepless dark each night. “Help!” I wailed, “Help me to find my way out of this place.” I read and reread Joel Osteen’s restoration mentality piece. I numbly waited in the quiet, dead space. Leaning over, searching down the empty tracks for the Karma Train to make its way into town; listening for its righteous whistle, wrongly thinking that somehow it would help bring balance and perhaps a bit of psychic relief with its arrival. I looked down at the barren field in which I stood, willing myself to believe that somewhere, deep down under the stark plain were still the seeds of joy. Willing my self to cultivate them, doing all I could to force their growth.
And just like that, one day in early September I woke up and in Forrest Gump-like fashion, walked out my front door. I walked through every neighborhood in Raleigh and then some, walking for hours some days. I walked straight through the fall months and ran some too.
If you are going through hell they say, keep going.
Yesterday I was on the phone with a girlfriend, detailing my probably not so gracious depiction of how the Karma Train had actually in fact, shown up this Christmas in the lives of several people who had done me wrong over the years. So much so that she was prompted to joke, “Boy I am glad I never did anything mean to you!”
But I struggled with the little piece in me that took glee; it wasn’t as healing as I imagined, feeling the scales were evened. No, the whistle of the Karma Train didn’t sound as sweet as I had imagined because inside I knew the depth of grief and anguish that person was feeling (even if they had contributed to mine all those years ago.) It seemed God had put this last year ahead of the Karma Train for me; a comeuppance of sort; a bigger lesson in empathy to this already empathetic soul.
I find myself comparing the degree of awfulness of things lately, as if putting events in context against the bigger scope of potential awfulness makes them more palatable. My cancer friends and I often talk about just about anything being better than the alternative (being dead.) A friend and I talked just this week about how a lesser diagnosis, albeit a serious one, was better than what they initially thought it was (cancer.) Heart wrenchingly, a woman I know lost her child to cancer this year; lately, I have found that when I bemoan my newly limited time with my kids I kick myself in the ass and say, “Geez Lauren, some people would give their right arm to have even the small amount of time you have, so quit.”
Joel, in his sermon on restoration, and the other Joel, in the bible, both talk about how the crops and land were taken from someone and the land left infertile and unusable, but how God restored this tenfold to the person from whom it was taken. Deuteronomy tells us, “God, your God, will restore everything you lost; he’ll have compassion on you; he’ll come back and pick up the pieces from all the places where you were scattered. No matter how far away you end up, God, your God, will get you out of there and bring you back to the land your ancestors once possessed. It will be yours again. He will give you a good life”
I have come to understand that we all have to take turns spending time in the barren field, as agonizing as it is. We have to just be there; wandering, walking, figuring it out, weeping, grieving. We have to know the barren-ness so that we can appreciate more so when it is lush with crops and growth. We must be there in it too, so that we can be stewards and help others through their barren times, you know, when the Karma Train toots.
I have also figured out that we never realize how lush our life has been until it has been taken from us. For the only way we can really, deeply appreciate the fullness of something is when we have known it’s absence.
Perhaps what made this last year so exhausting and depressing was not so much the stuff that was happening, but my fighting and wrestling with the stuff. My fight about “being in it.” When you look at the story of Job and the Angel, it is indeed about his wrestling and how God humbles him by making him even weaker during the fight, finally making him dependent on God. The parable (IMHO) is about learning to rely on God’s strength instead of your own. It is so very human that we scramble to get away from painful things, even more so with psychic pain and grief. And we wonder why our efforts are futile at times. This is why I think they are; because we must learn to be still, we must learn to be in it, however wretched and dark and awful it feels. We must learn to surrender.
The end game of all my reflective meandering is this; it has been likely the biggest year of growth of my life on all fronts since cancer. I have grown in directions I never would have if my efforts to change things back to how I wanted them had been successful. I am happier than I have been in my entire life at this point; relaxed and sleeping deeply, the sun is warm on my face. My anxiety has lessened as I trust God on an even deeper level; the lesson of surrender…to quit trying to control things and allow them to unfold was huge for this anxious girl.
Remember how I said earlier that I felt there was nothing I could do? I have found that there is always something you can do; you can be still and surrender. I have finally come to understand that we can fight fruitlessly to get it all back or we can wait and trust it will come back. But the important thing is this; too often we are fighting to get back what we think we need restored or will fix it, and that is not always what God knows we need to restore us. That is what surrender is all about Charlie Brown; stopping the wrestling and letting God do the heavy lifting, and realizing that what is restored won’t necessarily show up dressed like we imagined. Faith is about believing it will be even better.
What I learned in this year-long walk through hell is that we can’t concentrate on what is in front of us if we are focused on what is behind us. It trips you up.
I also learned that failure of your solution is not failure of God’s solution. And that sometimes, the whole stinking point is just your being in that space until His version of “tenfold” arrives.
It took me a while, but I got there.
I am a lucky girl. I have friends who kindly listened to my struggle over and over this last year and who have my back. I have a soft bed and warm cozy sheets to wrap myself in each night. I have a job that I love and that still pays the mortgage. I have a dad who hung the moon and who hung in there with me through this wretched year. I have a sweet dog I adore who despite the odds against it, has lived so far to thirteen and that is a gift. I have kids who are happy and healthy and who are figuring it all out, and who are stronger because of trials of the last year. All really good stuff, compared to the alternatives.
I have many relationships that are now being restored to an even more wonderful level than they have ever been, even back when things were what I considered “good.” I have found support and love in new places and beyond any expectation.
I have been given a million tiny sprouts of spontaneous kindnesses over the last year which sustained me in the darkest times, and which I will plant in the soil to grow new things. I have come to understand that perhaps the idea is not making your old seeds grow in infertile places, but trusting that new ones will appear that will either flourish where you are or will perhaps, make you see the logic in moving to new fertile fields.
Perhaps leaps of hope are not really into chasms, but to catapult you.
I have walked my way through hell it seems, into this new season of peace and gratitude and light.
And I have been restored. Tenfold at the very least.
“You have to die a few times before you can really live”
The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still ~ Exodus 14:14