Valleys and peaks. Losses and gains. Doubts and answers. Soul-crushing anguish and incredible joy. Such is the human experience. Right? Unfolding in the predictably unpredictable patterns that make up a life.
Of course there are the usual, everyday, happy-but-challenging, normalish lifey times, too.
But what about walking through those distinct and difficult in-betweens, when you’re recently out of the worst, but brave enough to pray for the best? When you’re looking back at a great disappointment still fragile and fresh, but also forward to the hope of tomorrow? I read a very helpful and healing article recently by one of my favorite writers, Leeana Tankersley, about “holding both” in these “middle” seasons. Her words resonated within me as I’m doing precisely that—holding diametrically opposed emotions within the same tender heart.
Sorrow and blessings.
Grief and praise.
Questions and hallelujahs.
My no-longer-pregnant stomach is empty, but my life is so full. I’m sad that I won’t be announcing my baby’s gender to the world in a handful of weeks, but I’m giddy (as always!) about our strategically coordinated family-of-four Halloween costumes. I’m still mourning the loss of that unborn life, but planning and hoping with a brilliant new specialist who believes I will get pregnant again, healthfully, sooner than later.
Basically my heart is a bit of a mess. But that’s okay! Usually the middle is messy, and let’s be honest, that’s life.
As I sit here, though, in this weird space of spinning in stillness, reminded more clearly than ever that I’m not in control, I wanted to share an exercise that I first started practicing a few years ago.
Is it silly? Maybe. Is it simple? Yes! Is it helpful? For me, absolutely! I didn’t have a name for it until recently, thanks to a wonderful sermon I’ll discuss in a sec. Now I call it charting my Threads of Grace, and here’s how it’s done.
I open my journal to a page of blank lines, preferably with a candle lit and an extra-frilly coffee on hand. I turn on some pensive and pretty music, and devote some time to thinking about the big disappointments or losses throughout my life. This is hard and sometimes painful, gently touching those long-healed scars, but it is also important and worth it.
On the left hand of the page, I write down these defining moments, one at a time—the ones that broke me down, left me reeling, pounding my fists and unclenching my palms and questioning the God I adore. These items can be anything awful on earth. Job loss, death, disease, financial strain, moving across the country, a life-shattering break-up. Or even smaller things like changing your major in college (four times, anyone? ME!) or repeatedly getting the Best Effort plaque in organized sports because you were neither athletic nor slim but showed precious determination (so many, many Best Effort plaques, guys!).
Anything that made you ask: “What in the heck? This hurts. I’m sure trying, but I’m lost and confused.”
Then, with each major loss I can conjure, immediately after I finish penning the words and staring sufficiently at my scrappy scrawl, I shift my focus to how that hurt was redeemed. And I write that redemption down boldly and gratefully on the right-hand side, claiming its reality as a bright new promise, drawing an arrow of grace from my left-hand anguish to this rightful good news. I remember. I sigh. I say thanks. I give praise to the Lord Almighty that I didn’t study art history or marry my fifth-grade crush.
I look back at the Lord’s past provisions—and, if even for a moment, through my very clear and present grief—I dare to hope for the future. For the right-hand-side spaces that still stare back at me, blank.
We don’t always get our answers. In fact, many times, we don’t. And when we do, they often look absolutely nothing like we would have imagined. Additionally, some losses take years to heal—and any speak of tips or tools in the meantime feels outright insulting, or trite. Still other aches are simply too great for closure here on this earth. This isn’t about minimizing pain, or throwing a self-help band-aid on gaping soul wounds. I’m writing these words to you, from my heart, amid one of the hardest seasons I can remember, as I take my own trepidatious steps daily toward trusting God more wholly in my fear and my sadness.
Feel everything, all the way. Grieve until you have no more tears. Press into the pain until, at last, you sense that subtle shift into peace. Don’t hold back. But also: Don’t stop believing.
Because in finding hope, I also find healing. And one way I manage to renew belief in my brinky* heart is by mapping the former places God met me, and plotting those points with gusto. So far, every time, God has either blown my lame plans out of the water by outdoing me tenfold; redeemed unbearable sadness for significant good; showed me how much He loves me in remarkable ways I can reach out and touch; or even revealed specifically, indisputably why His way was always the only route.
As Anne Lamott wrote and I always remind myself, “If you’ve been around for a while, you know that much of the time, if you are patient and paying attention, you will see that God will restore what the locusts have taken away.”
[*Brinky: Adjective. Created by me. On or near the brink, generally speaking. Extra needs God and her people. “She’s a little brinky.” Etc.]
God has been faithful. And God doesn’t change.
As an example, here is a Threads of Grace chart by me. On the left are various items I once wanted more than anything in the world, believed were the absolute best, and/or grieved in guttural pain. As David Foster Wallace said, “Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.” On the right is everything I ended up with instead of that which I worshipped, big time—for which I now thank Jesus, immeasurably:
To provide a little more color on some of these:
- Stanford Dreams –> USC: I once wanted to go to Stanford more than I wanted it to be less than 100 degrees in SoCal this whole past October. Prestige. Academics. That campus! It was the only college I didn’t get into, and holy freaking how dare they. Pretty sure they could hear my 17-year-old screams of anguish from Palo Alto. But oh my goodness! My whole entire life was waiting for me at USC. My husband, my calling, hundreds of priceless people who changed me forever. Eventually my beautiful babies. Plus, Stanford: Your band. I guess I just don’t understand. So. Many. Questions.
- Wrong Boys –> Doug: I only had one other technical boyfriend before Doug, and it was all kinds of just not right. That’s what most high school boyfriends are for, but you cannot reason with a despairing teenager and her black hair and dark poems and looping Dashboard Confessional. Then came a whole bunch of other little failed setups, innocent flings, first dates and this-is-so-awkward-what’s-happenings that left me wondering if maybe I had the “gift of singleness” I sometimes heard mentioned in sermons. But then: My Douglas. My angel. My everything. Thank you, God, for that road, with all its potholes and detours.
- Teaching Job –> Professional Writing Career: When I decided to attend USC for my Master of Professional Writing degree, I did so with one big assumption: that, like so many students before me, I would secure a job teaching undergraduate freshman writing during my studies, which would not only cover most of my tuition, but pay me a stipend as well. I assumed I would later go on to teach at a private university or community college to pay for the fact that “writers can’t actually make money writing.” The year I started grad school, however, they cut almost ALL of those teaching jobs. Perfect! Ensue devastation and All Regrets About All My Life Choices. It was really shocking and awful. But God had a plan. Throughout grad school, I ended up working a restaurant job that overpaid me extremely, and also freed my brain space to focus on reading every assigned word and pouring myself into assignments. I also learned more at that humble service job than any other job in my life, and my personal essay about the experience was my grad school thesis advisor’s favorite one I ever wrote. Additionally, I had time to intern for the first magazine that ever published my work—and, long story short, I have loved every step of my professional writing career that teaching would have precluded. Additionally, it’s never about the money, but the funds always (always) come if it’s meant to be.
Are you sick of me quoting Streams in the Desert yet? Because I love this so much:
Someday we will understand that God has a reason behind every no He gives us through the course of our lives. Yet even in this life, He always makes it up to us. When God’s people are worried and concerned that their prayers are not being answered, how often we have seen Him working to answer them in a far greater way!
“Not one word has failed of all the good promises He gave.”
1 Kings 8:56
After a year off, I am once again attending a phenomenal women’s Bible study called Virtue at Harvest Christian Fellowship of Orange County. In one of the first sessions after my miscarriage, the speaker gave the most incredibly anointed message on Nehemiah, which focused on God’s faithfulness to redeem—the threads of grace you see woven throughout the Bible and in our lives. She highlighted these three main truths while examining the bravery, faith and resolve of Nehemiah, trusted advisor of the king and historical key player in rebuilding the broken Jerusalem:
- The hand of God is always moving.
- The God of grace is always calling.
- The God of restoration is always working.
I’ve been meditating on those words, constantly.
And choosing to believe what they say.
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 and make you more numerous than your ancestors.
That’s from Deuteronomy 30, The Message version.
I don’t know what you’re sitting on, or in, or through, today. What you currently think about every time your head hits the pillow, as you pray you still know how to dream.
But I do know that God is with you. He’s everywhere. And He comes closest when we are sad.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted. He saves those who are crushed in spirit.
I changed my college major a lot, as I mentioned above. Like so many times, my undergrad advisor called me in recurrently to (I’m pretty sure) check on my mental state. But I landed in the journalism school as a public relations major, and later in grad school for writing.
God knew my course all along.
He has set before you a door that no man can shut.
My mom included that Bible verse on my high school senior yearbook page, at the end of this post for your viewing pleasure.
Also, I was never excellent at a single sport I attempted. Not soccer, not tennis, not softball, not swim, not track. But I was definitely… okay. And I sure had heart. And you know what you do when you’re at least okay and repeatedly get the Best Effort plaque?
You have a little more heart every season.
You try, try again.
And because some things you heard in Sunday school never get old, I still adore this poem, made popular by Corrie Ten Boom, brave Dutch saint and survivor of World War II holocaust concentration camps:
The Tapestry Poem
My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.
Thank you, sincerely, to EVERY single one of your blessed souls for reading the story of my heartbreaking miscarriage, and for reading this post as well. I have such a passion for de-stigmatizing and speaking to so many struggles we face as women in 2017, which of course remain too many to count. But we are not alone, sisters! Ever! Writing my stories and truths is so incredibly healing and life-giving for me—and, I pray, for my readers, too. I’m so happy to have some new margin in my life for blogging more often, so look out for more posts soon! And please shoot me a message if we’ve never met. I would love to connect!