It was just a year ago.
How can the depths of love and fear I’ve held in my hands be encapsulated in such a brief window of time? A lifetime wouldn’t be enough to hold the ocean of tears that escaped from my eyes during that year, for the thousands of “whys” and “hows” and broken, mangled pleadings.
I thought my life was falling apart. No, not falling apart. That’s not quite right. Falling feels accidental. This didn’t feel like an accident. I felt like life was being ripped apart at the seams, stretched to the point of actual damaging breakage, and our emotions and mental health were left in tattered shreds that could never be mended.
It was a phone call. A voice on the other end of the line. I felt the blood draining from my face—literally felt pins and needles in my cheeks as I reached out to grab the edge of a table because the floor was coming up fast as the room started circling. It was just on the other side of one of our deepest joys, the answer to half a decade of prayers and waiting. We had basked in our joy and relief, proudly claiming the end of sorrow. We were so sure we were done with sorrow. But then the phone rang, jangling us from our short-lived security. And then I knew sorrow as I’d never known her before. And she brought me to my knees so quickly that I might have had bruises if I could remember anything but the gripping pain in my chest when the world tilted on its axis.
Sorrow is the uninvited guest who beats on the front door after you’re safely tucked in your bed. You’re so concerned about waking the children that you’re not ready when Sorrow pushes through the door you’ve barely cracked open. She barrels in and throws her suitcases around the room and takes a sledge hammer to the walls of your home. She knocks the glass out of the windows with big, sweeping blows, but you’re still standing at the door, hand on the knob–still reeling from the shock of her brutal arrival. You can’t stop looking at her, can’t stop standing there speechless. Do something, you say to yourself. But there is nothing. You won’t see the detritus around you until Sorrow’s done–pieces of happiness and joy, antiquated feelings you don’t recognize anymore now shattered around your feet. All you can see is her ravaging, raging figure. You won’t really see the damage until she’s gone. And when she does leave, there’s so much that seems irreparable. Forever shredded and unmendable.
For more than seven months, Sorrow was our constant companion. She was there, waiting for us when the alarm sounded in the morning. She was seated at the table at every meal. She kept her hands close to our faces, plying tears from eyes we swore were finally dry. Sometimes we could ignore her, but just when it felt safe to believe perhaps she was packing up to go, she’d stroll into the room and laugh loudly at our stricken faces.
Every morning I numbly opened my Bible and threaded my fingers around a coffee cup. My eyes scanned the pages, but the questions continued to well up inside.
Why would You do this?
Why would You allow this?
Why do You make us walk such hard roads?
I searched the Psalms and found words that wrapped themselves around my heart.
I needed to be seen.
I needed to know that God saw that my chest was cracked open, that my heart was profusely bleeding out with every breath that I drew.
I quit asking why when I realized I might never have an answer to that question. Instead, I started asking how. How could I open my hands? How could I love and hold loosely? How could I be all in when I knew that I could end up being all out? How could I stand it if I obediently opened my hands and still lost it all? I had to open my hands, not knowing if I could keep my heart. It felt like the worst kind of gamble. I knew God would be good and He would persevere us through it. I knew that He would never fail us. I told people often, “I know God will not forsake me. I know that whatever happens, He will be on the other side of this and He will still be writing a good story. But I’m afraid of the pain of loss. I’m so afraid of the sorrow of losing. I don’t know if I can recover from it, if I’ll still be me on the other side of this.”
There was nothing for it. I didn’t know what the outcome would be. I didn’t know if agreeing to love without guarantee would cost me my heart, my future happiness. I didn’t know if trusting God blindly would make me more like Him if my heart didn’t survive the loss looming on the horizon. I didn’t know if I would have anything left to give at the end of it.
But each morning there was grace. The sun rose and set every day. And God was faithfully there, holding us closely to His chest. Yes, He could have stopped it immediately, but He didn’t. He held us close while letting us hurt. Every morning He beckoned us to come close to Him. I think He shielded us from things we’ll never know about, and I’m certain He exposed us to pain so deep and risky that we still aren’t fully over it today. But, He never left us. And in never leaving us, He taught us that we could always, always call out His name. No matter how bullishly Sorrow strong-armed her way into the house, we could still call a stronger Name. We could always believe that He saw us in our pain, acknowledged it, felt it.
Every night, I rocked a tiny body in a dark room, and I felt that I stood at a crossroad.
With tears often on my face, I had to choose to love with empty hands.
It hurt too much, it cost too much, it was too much.
But the Lord was enough. And it wasn’t too much for Him.
I sometimes picture Him holding up my bone-weary head on those nights, tears dripping down my chin in His hand while he pulled back each finger from what I wanted to hold to so tightly. My white knuckled grip was nothing for Him to unclench, but He did it gently and slowly. With every proclamation of who He is, how faithful He is, how strong–I learned what trust could be. Every sentence about His strength and love jumped from the pages of my Bible, and I found myself uttering words I couldn’t have mustered up on my own: “Thy will be done.” Whatever You’re doing, whatever Your endgame here is—I believe You are good in it. I cannot see it, I cannot see it, I cannot see it. But this is where I learn what faith really is: believing You are who You say You are when I just cannot see anything good.
The ache in my heart was big and deeply entrenched, but it wasn’t bigger than the love of a faithful, present God.
I was listening to Hillary Scott’s song “Thy Will Be Done” today, and it stirred up such a familiar pain in my chest that I felt gripped by both sadness and comfort. In my mind, sadness and comfort are knotted together, impossible to differentiate. During those seven months of love, sacrifice, fear, and loss, the Lord never abandoned me. Yes, He could have kept it from ever happening.
Would I know Him as deeply as I do today if not for all the months of begging Him to be near? Would I trust Him for healing if not for all the gutting pain in my heart, follow Him as unquestioningly if not for all the months of questions? Would I recognize His voice as quickly if not for all the mornings I desperately had to listen, ear pressed to the pages of His words?
A quick, happy ending would have robbed me of the gritty, soul-shaping, refining God did as He covered my eyes and taught me to follow His voice.
One day, Sorrow left my house. We toasted with champagne, and I rested my head on the pillow without fear for the first time in nearly a year. I thought I had cleaned up all her destruction. But three full months after Sorrow left, I found myself standing at a clothing rack in a store afraid to buy a pair of winter pajamas for my son in case I might lose him.
And I knew in that moment that I was still healing.
Am still healing.
Which tells me God is still teaching me to open my hands. I don’t know what the empty hands are for this time, but the next time Sorrow comes barging in, I’ll know that though she comes uninvited, she doesn’t come alone.
“It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes.” -Psalm 119:71