Nuance (a follow-up post)

I’ve wanted to do a follow up post to my blog from a month ago. I’m sure you know the one. It received way more attention than I’d ever imagined. I’ve been surprised by the response and haven’t really known how to comment on it. I wrote it with a very specific purpose: to answer a question people I know have been asking me. Whenever we put out a very narrowly focused statement, there are a ton of things that we don’t say. That’s the nature of nuance, right? It’s easy to have such a vision of what we are trying to accomplish in a moment that we aren’t looking at the whole picture. That was true of my post, as well as the Nashville Statement as a whole. Just because I believe the Nashville Statement is something we need, doesn’t mean it’s the only thing we need.

I have been incredibly grateful for the gracious comments from many and honestly challenged by others. In light of those responses, I’d like to provide some clarity. I don’t particularly see myself as an authority on any of these issues and would rather just keep my thoughts to myself most of the time. But I also know that Jesus has given me this story and somewhat unique perspective, so I am trying my best to use it for his glory. I’ve never wanted my life to be used as a template for how anyone else should live. In my previous marriage we were always very clear to say that we didn’t think marriage was a prescriptive solution for every gay individual. Honestly, in the majority of cases I don’t think it’s advisable. But now even more so in my divorce, I don’t mean to imply that “if you follow any of the same path Brian did, you’ll eventually walk away from faith.” I don’t mean to imply that at all. I realize what happened to me was a specific situation and doesn’t mean that everyone who takes similar steps will end up at the same destination. But I do think we serve as a warning. And I do mean “we.” As Brian changed his views, I reluctantly came along. It got to a place where I found myself in sin and didn’t feel a wit of guilt over it because I was so busy emphasizing grace over truth. The warning is this (and is there for everyone): our hearts are desperately wicked and are insatiable in their desire to justify our sin.

I’d also like to address the fact that some of the dearest people in my life came from that time. I think like Jonah, we can still do ministry in the midst of running from God’s calling. And for me, that ministry was hospitality, even as my heart was often hard towards God. Those people who came into my home became family and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I don’t mean to say that looking back I regret everything that came from that time. I don’t. I just regret the fact that I allowed my heart to drift and wander in that time. I absolutely was doing the best I could with the information I had, but in hindsight feel that maybe the steps we took weren’t the wisest. I think we made a lot of choices in the guise of “becoming healthier.” While Jesus absolutely longs for our flourishing and to conquer unhealthy patterns and self-conceptions, there is a danger to define “healthy” however we darn well please. Looking back, I believe we would have done well to seek health and wholeness through oneness with Christ rather than in pursuing it however we saw fit. Brian progressively felt like he was getting healthier the farther he walked away from Jesus. There’s something very wrong with that definition of healthy.

I’d also like to address the language issue concerning identity. I referenced in my post the fault in embracing being a gay Christian. Let me clarify what I meant. I think language is tricky and people have to use the language they are comfortable with. I don’t think it’s wrong necessarily to describe one’s self as gay. It’s the emphasis on the word preceding “Christian” that I find dangerous. It’s the weight and prioritization of one’s sexuality over identity in Christ that I find particularly dangerous. But in my mind gay simply means being attracted to the same sex. If people would rather use same sex attracted, fine. Doesn’t make a difference to me. As long as all our sexuality — gay or straight — is under submission to Christ.

I’d also like to make a few remarks on what I feel was left out of the Nashville statement. I really wish divorce was mentioned or that a similar statement gave clarification on it. There are a ton of grey to not-so-grey-but-often-ignored areas in divorce and remarriage that I think would have fit well into this discussion on sexual ethics. I also wish there had been a mention of the hurts the church has inflicted on the LGBT community. Or a strong statement against bullying or mention of the high suicide rate in these communities. I believe they had a really narrow goal in writing the statement — addressing very specific questions that are being asked across the national stage at the moment. So, I give the writers and signers of the statement room and time to respond to some of those omissions. Likewise, I have not stopped thinking about all the things I wanted to add to my blog post since I hit publish. My narrow focus was to clear the air about some of my previously held views and to express my gratefulness for a clear, Bible-based theology on some of these issues. But, that is not all I want to say. There are so many other questions that circle my head and churn in my stomach. Questions that the church still needs to find an answer for. I hope to address some of those issues here.

Does the church regularly injure people in the name of good theology? Yes. It is a very sad thing that this statement, as biblically based as it is, will be used to commit all kinds of atrocities. We have yet figured out how to mingle truth and grace in a way that uplifts, offers hope, and removes the stigma of particular sins. I am no more or no less of a sinner than anyone else. I desperately need God’s grace to cover over my sins, sexual and otherwise, just like every other person on earth. We might all need nuanced help depending on our proclivities, but we all need Jesus and we are all needed parts of the Body.

Has the church failed in many cases, providing condemnation instead of hope to those who struggle with sexual issues? Yes. I have personally been a victim of gossip, misunderstanding, and ostracization just by my association to my former husband. I cannot imagine how much deeper the wounds go for others. The statistics don’t lie about the amount of LGBT individuals coming from a church background who attempt suicide or other self-harm. It is astounding. It should break our hearts as much as sin does. There may be no “third way” when it comes to our theology but there HAS to be another way when it comes to our practice. I think the church has been immobilized by fear and confusion, not knowing how to interact with people instead of just debating issues. We need to do better.

Do we have a long way to go when it comes to offering hope and a sustainable, godly alternative to intimacy when it comes to those who are pursuing celibacy? Yes. I know a lot of people who struggle with same sex attraction. Many who over the years have moved towards affirming positions, some in the midst of trying to figure out what their future holds, and very few who are finding support in their churches for remaining single. Marriage and the family are often worshiped in the church. It is the holy grail, isolating those who cannot marry for various reasons, are not married for a period of time, or find themselves with their marriages ending. LGBT do a lot of things incredibly well, never more so than in creating community. No, in creating family. The church would do well to follow their example

So, those are just a few of my thoughts that have stemmed from conversations over the past month. There are so many nooks and crannies in this issue and in my story, they cannot be outlined in one or two blog posts. But hopefully this provides some clarity. And as always, I’m happy to talk with anyone in person about any of these things. Thank you again for the response to my original post and for showing me grace. I am truly grateful.

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A Letter to the Brokenhearted

I’ve been asked several times, “what would you say to someone who you just found out is going through a divorce?” I’ve thought about it a lot. Of course every situation is so unique, but there are some universal experiences in heartbreak. So, I’ve put together this letter. Feel free to share it with the hurting people in your life.

Dear brokenhearted one,
Today is painful. Unspeakably so. Your heart is in shreds. Your life feels hopelessly broken. You can’t see your way through the next ten minutes, much less imagine anything beyond that. I know. Because I was you. One year ago, I was you. Everyone kept telling me it’ll get better. Hearing songs on the radio won’t always hurt. Sitting down as a family of four, instead of five, won’t always feel like daggers. Things will eventually settle in and you will be okay. Since everyone else is telling you that, I won’t. Because it doesn’t help with right now. Right now sucks.
Today, just breathe. I don’t know that anything will help ease your pain, but I know your lungs keep steadily working and your heart pounds in your broken chest. Let your body go on for you, for now, it will keep taking the next breath when you feel like you can’t. Everyone will also tell you to let yourself feel the pain. That sounded idiotic to me at the time. How can I not feel it? It is shouting at me and drowning every other thought in my head! These are the days to just let the pain be. There will be days when you want to figure out a purpose, a way forward. This is not that day. Today, let your grief be loud.
I don’t know the circumstances of your heartbreak, but I know the only one who can give you comfort. It isn’t a piece of chocolate cake or in drowning yourself in a bottle of pinot noir, though give yourself grace dear one. I know Jesus feels far away. I know it feels like the empty space next to you in bed will swallow you whole. I remember begging Jesus for some tangible comfort, to feel his arms around my tear wracked body. But he wasn’t there in that way. But he was there. He never left my side. I didn’t feel like I could pray or read Scripture when I was at my lowest, and I want you to know there is grace for that. Ask people to pray for you if you cannot do it yourself. He will listen to your angry cries, he will take whatever you throw at him. Just lean into him, whether in pain or anger.
I want you to know that there’s a reason you feel like violence has been done to your soul. It absolutely has. You were once one flesh with another human being, and that union has been ripped asunder. God describes his relationship to us in the terms of marriage. He also describes the unfaithfulness of his people in terms of adultery, and goes so far as to divorce his people. God, your God, is divorced. You are not alone. You are not hopelessly irredeemable. Your God wears the same label that you do; do not let this title become a weight around your heart that sinks you into shame.
I can promise you that in one year things will not be the same. You may not have had a choice in your divorce. It could have come unexpectedly or with years of warning, but either way, you do have choices now. You have a choice to survive. To allow the pain to make you bitter or better. But today is not for making choices. Today is a day to survive. To cry. To wail. To find comfort in friends. To sleep, feed your weary body, and to care for yourself as you can. The best thing anyone said to me during that time was this: “you cannot possibly give yourself too much grace right now.” Be patient with your wounded soul, dear one. Don’t expect anything from yourself but to keep moving forward.
Expect to cry a lot. Expect to need a lot of help. Expect to feel insane at times. But as the days go on you will find a way. Write your feelings — it really does help. Take care of the needs of the day, and you will be overwhelmed at the number of them, and then fall into the arms of your Savior. He can and will sustain you. Entrust your fears and anxieties and pains to him, you can rest because He never stops interceding for you. And know that this promise is for you: “I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” Tomorrow will be better, eventually.

Sincerely,
A previously brokenhearted woman

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Sewn Together

My grandmother was an excellent seamstress. She excelled at almost every craft she touched, but her quilts were legendary. I always remember them hanging in her sewing room/guest room when we would visit. My sister and I would spend hours staring at her glass top cabinet filled with sewing odds and ends, searching for our favorite golden thread scissors that looked like a crane. We’d watch her sit at her sewing table, creating fabric chains that would fall to the floor in a pile. As the youngest grandchildren, we watched almost all of our cousins get married and be given her most precious gift: a custom wedding quilt.

My mom started quilting when I was in junior high. I immediately was hooked. I would sit and help her lay out quilt squares on a board covered with flannel, so they wouldn’t shift in transit. We picked out the fabric together that eventually became the first quilt I helped sew: the gorgeous watercolor Irish chain. We picked out the fabric at a store in Long Beach, right off Bushard St. — the pronunciation of the street name was a mystery to us which created endless laughter between my mom and I. Quilting has always been a family affair. They are made as a family and given to family. Being a part of this sewing legacy has always meant the world to me.

Not long after my grandmother saw the finished Irish chain quilt, she decided to make a similar one. It was a watercolor pattern but in a diamond shape. My mom returned to that same fabric store and they picked out the fabric together. It was a striking, rose-colored, King size quilt to cover the bed in the guest house. It remained there for many years. I remember countless weekends of playing in the pool, being barked at by their corgie Mamie, and running into that guest house, soaking wet to use the bathroom. That quilt was always there. It meant my grandmother, a weekend with my family, listening to old classics being crooned on the radio, the desert heat, and salami sandwiches with pickles and dijon. It meant klondike bars while watching golf with my grandfather and sneaking off to play heart and soul on the organ with my sister.

By the time my sister got married my grandmother was fading a bit in her abilities. Her slow mental decline became more apparent when working with the intricacies of quilt making. My mom and I re-sewed nearly the entire quilt she had made for my sister’s wedding. A beautiful blue and white wedding ring quilt, not a quilt to be trifled with. Two years later it was my turn to get married and we knew grandmother wouldn’t be able to make me a quilt. She was starting to downsize her sizable quilt collection and asked if I’d like any of the ones she’d already made. I knew without a doubt which one I wanted. The rose-colored, watercolor diamond quilt. I was so happy when she presented it to me on my wedding day.

My grandmother died three years ago, the day before my 30th birthday. Anything that she touched has become incredibly valuable to me, not the least of which is that quilt. When Brian left I said a lot of weird things. Once in a heated moment, trying to convey how awful the whole situation was I told him, “I’m so glad my grandmother isn’t alive to see this.” She would’ve been heartbroken. Well, now I’m remarried and it often hits me how sad I am that she does not get to know my new husband. That he will never know her laugh, her Lucille Ball type qualities, her home that holds some of the most precious memories I have, or her quilts. We eloped, so I didn’t really miss the tradition of being presented a quilt at my wedding. But it still makes me sad sometimes.

This last weekend we used our normal blanket on our camping trip so while it was being washed, I pulled out that old rose-colored diamond quilt and laid it on the bed. It felt strange. It was a gift to Brian and me, but more than that it was a gift from my grandmother to me. I have lost a lot of things these past two years, but I was not about to lose this quilt. Not with all it has meant to me. I have grown to be thankful that it wasn’t made specifically for us. It was made with my mom to welcome family and cover the many people who stayed at my grandparent’s house. That’s just what she did, make people feel welcome and her quilts wrapped people in tangible love.

And now that quilt covers Johnathan and I as we sleep. It brought me to tears, feeling her love and presence in the seams of that quilt. Knowing she chose each fabric, touched each square, and sewed every stitch. Needles. Thread. Fabric. Scissors. A simple equation that adds up to something so much bigger than its parts. My broken heart and life are being sewn together by my Savior, in a crazy pattern I never would’ve chosen for myself. And yet I’d like to think that if my grandmother was here she would smile and say, “Isn’t He good?”

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Little Blessings

We were having a nice little family trip to Starbucks when we came face-to-face with the way culture completely devalues children. I had taken the kiddos outside after getting our drinks while my husband had a few things to finish up inside before joining us. Now, I will be the first to admit: kids can be annoying. MY kids can be annoying. And loud. And rambunctious. But on this particular day, they were just sweet and happy. Several people had smiled at them and said “hello”. My kids are on the extremely extroverted side of the spectrum and they love talking to people, were being generally friendly, said “please” and “thank you” when ordering — you get the picture. They were cheerful, a little oblivious to other people trying to get by, but overall, their behavior was better than average.

As my husband headed outside to join us, he was walking behind a group of 20-something gals. He stopped dead in his tracks when one of the ladies, in reference to our kids, said, “don’t you just want to kick them?” She was quickly mortified when he spoke up with, “you mean my children?” She turned bright red and quickly left. But wow. My sweet and friendly kids, just being kids, somehow invited her complete disdain and even a joke about physically harming them. Yeesh.

But isn’t that culture today? Isn’t it sad? Children are seen as obstructions to our days, annoyances to our plane flights, interruptions to our dinners, and inconveniences to our lives. Their value is so minimized, it’s no wonder that their rights are also next to nothing. Not unlike the time of Jesus. At his birth, there was mass murder of babies and young children. While I doubt (or at least hope!) that this wasn’t approved of by the people as a whole, it definitely revealed the expendability of children and how they were seen as subservient to achieving one’s personal goals and ambitions (in this case, King Herod not wanting to be usurped by another King).

And yet, Jesus: always counter-cultural, always bucking the system, always surprising people. He welcomes the little children. He values their faith as something for us to learn from. He declares them to be precious. He takes time out of his busy schedule to pause and hold them, finding them to be just as worthwhile of an audience as those he preached to and healed. It isn’t surprising that a culture that devalues children then devalues people — and all kinds of hatred and fighting follow. If society can’t even view small children with a bit of charity, how will they ever see value in their fellow man? How will they learn to dialogue with others who differ from them when they don’t even have the patience for childish behavior?

I get it. Kids are annoying. Adults can be irritating. Heck, most of the dialogue happening on social media these days is downright exasperating. But we have to see past the childishness and the foolishness to see what Jesus valued in other people: their souls. Regardless of how we differ and disagree, I hope we can take the time to see all people have value because all people were created in God’s image. When Jesus takes time to focus and praise little children there is a lesson for us to learn: God loves people, pursues people, takes time with them, and is patient with their nonsense. We should strive to do the same.

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Eyes on Jesus

There’s a phrase I hear a lot around my house. And by a lot I mean, “if I had a nickel for every time I heard it, I’d be a millionaire.” My three kids have a variety of responsibilities around the house: homework, setting the table, putting away toys, folding laundry, etc. Without fail, I have one dawdling and hemming and hawing, trying to delay the inevitable. When I prompt them with a reminder, “Buddy, it’s time to fold the laundry.” The common refrain is, “But so-and-so isn’t doing it!” Every. Day. Most of the time is exasperates me, but occasionally it hits me as quite profound. Is it any different than the question Peter asked Jesus in John 21:21, “Lord, what about this man?” Is it really any different than what we do all day long in our prayers?

God, why was she able to get pregnant so quickly and I remain infertile? Why is that marriage blessed even when it sprung from an unhealthy start, while mine failed despite the best intentions? Why do I have to have such strong convictions while someone else seems to feel no guilt? Why do I have so many illnesses while someone else seems to always be healthy and strong? Why are my efforts to grow a business never successful and others seem to have the Midas touch? Why are some people called to extraordinary sacrifice in their Christian walk while others seem physically blessed beyond measure? Why was I born into wealth and privilege and others starve to death? Why can’t I eat whatever I want and not gain weight like so-and-so? Why are people born with disabilities and with struggles that will make their life so much harder than mine? Why are some asked to remain single and held to celibacy while others enjoy the gift of marriage?

Why her? Why him? Why me? Why not me? Why, God?

The answer? Eyes on Jesus. Stop looking at everybody and everything else and look to Jesus. And as you look to Jesus focus on what he has specifically for you. What is Jesus asking you to do? It’s the same answer given to Peter in John 21:22 “As for you, follow me.” And in some ways, it’s the same answer I give my children. “Buddy, what did I ask you to do?” In that moment things seem unfair to him, for whatever reason. But I’m asking him to trust me. Trust that I have his best interest in mind. That I will make sure everyone gets what they deserve — that if the other child really is slacking, that they won’t get the same reward as the one doing their job faithfully. My kid’s vary in age from 3 to 8, which means the oldest often feels more weight of responsibility than the others. It often feels unfair to him, no doubt. But what I’m asking him to do in that moment is to believe I have his good in mind. Stop looking at the facts as they appear from his perspective and trust ME.

Now, I’m an imperfect mother. Even as I’m asking my son to trust me, I know that I’m going to fail him. But thankfully that is not the case with our perfect God. Not only is he trustworthy because of his character, revealed in Scripture: wise, loving, gracious, forgiving, unchanging, powerful, etc. We also know he is trustworthy because of his consistent track record of faithfulness towards people. Psalm after psalm recount the deeds of God, done on behalf of faithless people. How he rights all wrongs and rewards those who seek him all their days. So when he says, “trust me, look to me, follow me,” I have every confidence that he knows better than I do. That asking “why her” and “why me” is only going to generate discontent and distrust in my Lord.

As I attempt to parent these small children, I recognize all the ways that they cannot see the big picture. They see their small slice of the pie and it feels unfair. It reminds me that I don’t always know the whole story in my life either. The piece I can see appears unjust when I am not focusing on the perfect justice of my God. I don’t know why some people will have harder lives than others, but I do know that my all-wise, all-loving, and all-powerful God does. I choose to trust him and keep my eyes on Jesus when life doesn’t make sense.

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It’s Time

I have attempted to be private about the details of my divorce and what led to it. I hope I have done right by protecting my former husband and by not airing laundry the world did not need to know. And yet, our marriage was very public in many ways. For those of you who have known me for years, you remember when we were writing publicly about Brian and I’s mixed orientation marriage. You remember seeing me post pictures at Pride Parades, having countless LGBT-friendly gatherings in my home, and may even know we were on track to writing a book on the subject. In my mind, I was trying to create a bridge between the two worlds I found myself in: the gay world filled with many people who were dear to me and the conservative Christian world I was raised in and continue to choose to align myself with.

And since all of that was very public, I’m sure many of you have wondered where I stand now. How do I look back on it all? Would I endorse the positions I held and wrote about back then? Do I agree with the ways we conducted ourselves? How do I feel about controversial events happening on a national level, with the Nashville Statement coming out this past week and LGBT issues in the news constantly? How do I feel when I see the kinds of views my ex-husband is posting publicly and everything he now stands for?

Well, I’m going to answer those questions to the best of my ability while continuing to preserve discretion where I can. I think we were wrong. Not for getting married, not for attempting to stay married, not for pursuing Christ and forsaking all others. Those things were right and I wholeheartedly believe our marriage could have survived based on that foundation. But we were wrong to embrace “being gay” as an identity. We were wrong to move away from the gospel and to move towards figuring out some new way to exist. When I look back on what we wrote, I think, “dear Monica, run to Jesus. He is ever and only the answer. There is no other way. Don’t succumb to pressure, don’t give in to what feels comfortable and more palatable. Cling to God and truth.” Brian slowly, inch by inch walked away from faithfulness to the Scripture. Our hearts can only serve one god, and he chose identity in his sexuality above all else. He eventually sacrificed everything on that altar: his relationship with God, our marriage, and our family.

When I read the Nashville statement, all I can think is “YES. Thank you.” I wish this was written twenty years ago and that I had never begun to depart from it. I obviously bear responsibility for allowing myself to be moved on a variety of topics, but I felt helpless to do otherwise. Like many, if not all of you, I had heard that because I did not personally experience these issues that I could not have a voice in the discussion. I trusted Brian. I trusted him to lead me and our family, and so I often deferred to his judgment. When he said “we don’t like what so-and-so is saying” I agreed. I didn’t bother to read for myself or figure out how things were lining up with Scripture. I planted my flag in the ground, defending him at all costs whether I fully understood why or not. That is my fault. I should not have done that. Now as I read the people that he did not endorse, I can see why. People like Rosaria Butterfield and Christopher Yuan. People who were saying, “No. It doesn’t matter what your experience is, Jesus is the only answer and finding hope or identity in anything other than him will not work.”

I cannot say it any more clearly or emphatically or with as much authority as Rosaria Butterfield did in her recent blog. She is someone who has a legitimate voice in the discussion because of her sexual orientation. I am incredibly grateful for what she wrote and follow it with a hearty “amen.” I literally felt sick when I read the response to the Nashville Statement in the Christians United statement along with others echoing their sentiment. Because you cannot get away with calling sin “good”, just because it feels more loving. Because I know where attempting to find a middle ground leads. I know because I watched it happen first hand in the person I loved more dearly than any other in this world. I watched this man who loved Jesus turn into someone who I do not recognize. There is no middle ground. There are only two ways to live — towards and for Christ or away and against Him. I choose the former.

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Something Else

I’m a haphazard writer. I’m not very disciplined at writing when I don’t feel like it. But when a fancy hits me, BAM! I write most my blogs in less than 5 minutes and barely edit them. However when I’m without inspiration, silence. Three weeks ago a topic hit me: How badly I want to be able to write about something else, anything else. How I want to move on and write about positive things and cooking and growth and world issues and my children. And yet it seems all I can write about is grief and issues related to divorce and heartbreak.

The thing about being an undisciplined writer is sometimes when the idea presents itself, the time to complete the task does not also magically arrive. So inspiration had struck, but I didn’t get around to writing anything about it. Then, I went to Atlanta for a Shaklee conference and everything changed. I realized that the reason I wasn’t able to write about anything else was that I wasn’t really moving on. Being stuck wasn’t something that was happening to me, it was a choice I was making for myself.

It’s really easy to idolize grief. To let it own you and run your decisions and life. For a season, giving yourself grace and feeling what you need to feel is essential to healing. But then it becomes a habit. And then it becomes chains. And I was chained to my grief. Even though life was moving on and happy things were happening, I still felt stuck. Any small ache or pain in my life threw me right back into the pit of despair. It was as if those slight injuries were equal to the fatal blow that was inflicted on me over a year ago.

When I was going through the thick of things, I thought a lot about what pain does to people. That it really only has two outcomes: making people bitter or making people better. Pain can distort you and fashion you into an ugly person. Or it can mold you into someone who is beautiful. I’ve known people on both sides, and it isn’t the circumstances that dictate their responses. I’ve walked arm and arm with women who’ve lost handfuls of children to miscarriage, who’ve endured years of infertility, who have been sequestered to their room for months or years due to debilitating diseases, who’ve held their children through countless rounds of chemo and radiation, who’ve lost their marriages, who’ve lost all their possessions. And yet these women are gloriously beautiful. You feel their trust in Jesus in every conversation and their light cannot be dampened. And I’ve known people who became bitter at their circumstances; people who essentially followed Job’s wife’s counsel to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9).

Grief is impossibly hard. It is a world of its own that is incoherent to those who have not been there. It requires intense tears, sleepless nights, physical pain from grief, and the ability to mourn in sadness and anger. But in every grief-filled situation, there will come a moment when the mourner must get up, wash their face, and worship God (2 Sam. 12:20).

And for me, that moment came while I was in Atlanta, at a conference with the theme of “breakthrough”. During the first session, I wrote in my notebook, “I have never in my life been more in need of a breakthrough.” And with that overwhelmed and broken thought, Jesus met me. I am not miraculously healed and now no longer struggle with sadness, but there has been a shift. A shift towards movement, towards gladness, and towards greater trust in God’s incredible plan.

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Of friendship, waiting, and gardens

We sat on the hardwood floor of my 1920’s bungalow. We folded laundry while my toddler ran to and fro. My baby boy, just learning to pull himself up on furniture, squealed with delight at his new skill. She was waiting on the birth of her first child. We talked about childbirth. About how she hoped it would happen naturally, the way mine had. About how each day felt so long when the unknowns loomed large. Nine months. Overdue. Still waiting.

A year later I found myself waiting. After enduring a hard pregnancy, I was longing for the end. Longing for my baby girl in my arms. I sat in her warm living room after a routine check-up. I remember tearing up with exhaustion over the waiting. She patiently cleaned up the food her baby had tossed out of his high chair. She fed my boys. I looked out of the window, staring at the apartment building immediately next door. The pressures of life and all the pain felt interminable.

That winter was a hard one. We ventured out into the inclement weather, even by Chicago’s standards, and spent the day at an aquarium. We basked in the warmth of the amazon room. We marveled at glowing jellyfish. We pushed strollers and struggled little arms into puffy jackets. The day passed quickly, amidst endless days of snow and negative degrees. My heart was happy and my arms were full. She was sad, enveloped in darkness. We talked that day. Really talked. We prayed. We waited.

We planted a garden together in my backyard. The extra garden plot was ideal for her tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, and one rogue potato from last year’s harvest. We shared vegetables. We talked about the ethics of tomatoes. I taught her how to can and we made salsa from the last green tomatoes, once the seasons had changed.

She moved while I waited for my house to sell. For 18 months, I waited for it to sell. For 18 months, she lived in another country and lived a different life. We each became victims of very different assailants. For six months, we both began to drown in our pain. PTSD for her. Divorce for me. We unexpectedly found ourselves together again, together in this darkness. I brought her groceries when she could barely move. She prayed for me and wrote me letters when I didn’t want to live. We sat on a park bench in the green of summer, watching our children play. Therapy? Medication? Vitamins? Was there any hope for us?

We cried many tears on the grey couch in my living room. We still folded laundry. She watched my kids so I could shower. We made lunches together and greedily scooped up our salads, squeezed together on the piano bench at the end of the table. Our very full table, full of children and their laughter. Our pain so foreign to them. They were no longer alarmed at our tears. The tears were more common than our smiles.

Another winter passed, more waiting for healing. Waiting for light. Some days we still cried, but we smiled too. We laughed. I would watch her lean back onto my orange pillows and stretch her legs across the cushions. We began to feel whole. But what’s next? Where do we go from here? Could she return to her new home? Could I move forward in a new relationship? When? How?

In May I asked for her help in my garden again. We ripped up weeds and plowed the claylike soil. We planted tomatoes, cucumbers, yellow squash, zucchini, strawberries, potatoes, jalapenos, and herbs. She told me about the summer she worked in a nursery. How the best part of her day was watering the thirsty plants each morning. I thought about that every time I watered that garden. After weeks of taking care of the plants the produce was abundant. She returned to her new country. I brought home a new husband. As a new family, we ate many meals comprised of the fruits of my labors, and of the labor of love from my dear friend.

The season has passed and the plants have wilted. I spent an afternoon in the hot sun tilling the soil and carefully planting new seeds. Seeds for a fall harvest. Planting seeds seems like utter foolishness. Hoping that these small bits can turn into something flourishing and worthwhile. I spend my mornings watering these invisible seeds, thinking of her and how we made it. How we cried, laughed, despaired, hoped, gardened, and cooked together for nearly six years. How the seasons have come and gone, how waiting has turned into doing. How there’s always life after death. And how we have hope because of Jesus for our days that remain.

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Memories are Tricky

I’ve heard them a thousand times. Haven’t you? Those stories that from your family’s history that have become legend. The time Great Great Grandmother Ocie was arrested for making moonshine in West Virginia. How Great Grandfather Lonnie was decapitated by a barbed wire fence during a tornado in Tennessee. How Grandfather changed his name to Lee on the spot, the night he met and proposed to Grandmother Jean. How my Mom has never been able to drive on family trips because of the “driving in neutral down a hill” incident on their honeymoon. Real people’s lives, turned into legend.

It’s happened to things that happened in my childhood. Events that were traumatic or upsetting at the time have become family jokes. When my sister and I had our hair butchered at a salon, and my dad famously remarked, “who traded my girls in for boys?” Or things I said as a child that have been repeated to infamy by every family member. The roadside pit stop in Costa Rica that resulted in my reply, “I just skimmed the top.”

History has a way of improving upon the original. What once was a gruesome story has become a story we all gasp over at dinner parties. The world’s most embarrassing moments make for the most hilarious entertainment after the fact. Over time stories change in so many ways. History is revised by whoever tells the story for the longest amount of time and whoever is speaking the loudest. It makes me wonder how much truth is in those stories. Or are my favorite memories more myth than fact?

It’s moments when I’m lost in these thoughts that I become curious about what my kids will remember. What tall tales will they tell of our life together? What will they even recall of our short time together with their dad? How will they remember me and the way I survived? I can only hope that I’m a hero of some of these stories, and yet I fear I am the villain. It’s easy to romanticize someone who isn’t there all the time. But me? They have me in all my bloody and bruised glory, daily displaying the full range of my humanity. Can they possibly remember in a positive light?

And yet children always seem to be little optimists. One of my parent’s favorite memories of my sister and I involves a rent-by-the-hour motel room in Las Vegas. We were a camping family and very rarely stayed in anything other than the pop top of our silver Volkswagon Vanagon. After a long day of driving my parents decided we’d stop in and see what all the fuss was concerning Las Vegas. We had a fun time walking around Circus Circus and watching all the various spectacles on the strip. By the time the evening rolled around there was “no room in the inn.” Or hotels. Or even upscale motels. So we ended up in the last dingy place available. The Sue Linda Motel.

But to my sister and I, this place was the Taj Mahal. We couldn’t see the nailed down television, bolted to prevent the questionable clientele from taking it. We didn’t notice the plastic mattress pad under the sheet to protect the mattress from a variety of unsavory fluids. We didn’t hear the doors slamming all night, along with the rotating customers coming and going. All we saw a glorious room, spacious and with a real bed. We raved on and on about how wonderful it was and my parents, with knowing looks, just laughed at our naivete. (In my parents’ defense, we left not long after arriving and just drove the rest of the way home in the middle of the night.)

So, perhaps my kids will tell the story about the road trip where Avery threw up and mommy cleaned her all up in the middle-of-nowhere gas station. And how we all spent the night in a spectacular hotel room (in reality, dingy and cheap), giggling when someone tooted after we were all supposed to be asleep. And the time mommy slammed on the brakes on a rainy day to rescue a toad from the middle of the road. They might be more legend than truth by the time they are passed down to my grandchildren, but I hope the feeling behind them conveys my love for them.

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Bittersweet

There is perhaps nothing more American than the guarantee of happily ever after. We’ve become proud owners and champions of Disney’s dream. Old stories that had complicated endings, or sometimes downright gruesome ones, have been shined and tidied up to fit our palate. Our addiction to all things sweet extends from our diet to our taste in entertainment. We like to wrap things up in beautiful packages: simple, elegant, and most of all happy.

We like nothing better than a comeback story. If there has to be sadness in life, it better be rounded out with a glorious story that gets you off your duff and cheering in the stands. Winning a trophy may fill all previous gaps left by pain in a movie, but it does not in real life. Life is much more complex. Sad and happy often are hopelessly intertwined.

Ever since I remarried I feel like I no longer have permission to grieve. No one would tell me this, but its implicit in the excited and hope-filled comments people impart. “I’m so happy that things aren’t hard for you anymore.” “God has redeemed this situation so beautifully.” “What a good thing that you aren’t alone and your kids have a dad again.” Yes, yes, and amen. But also no.

Things aren’t as hard as when I was a single mom. I don’t spend the night awake in an empty bed wishing I could disappear. I don’t spend evenings trying to figure out how I’m going to provide for my family and how I’m going to be in three places at once tomorrow. I have help at home and I have a partner in life. It is good. But seeing others celebrate their anniversaries still sting. Dealing with the fallout of having a broken family still feels painful. My life often still feels like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

My kids are unbelievably blessed to have my husband. His love for them is truly a gift from God. It was given to him full-grown and ready to be active. From the first moment they met, my kids were ready to have him in our lives and the feeling was absolutely mutual. And yet they still don’t know what to call him. I still feel stings when others assume he’s their dad; and daggers when I have to refer to their last name as different than ours. We won’t ever be the Allen Family. We won’t ever have “Allen Family Rules” proudly on display in our kitchen. Their dad will always live somewhere else and need to be explained away.

I still lost eleven years of my life. That hasn’t changed. Some of the happiest memories I’ve ever made have turned sour. I share the most intimate of moments, of making and birthing children, with a complete stranger. Much of my day can feel dishonest. I’m so often reminded of stories and things that I’d like to share with my husband, but I know they can hurt so I keep them to myself. I often think of people or things that I want to talk about, but then remember he doesn’t know because he wasn’t there.

Bittersweet is perhaps the best description for where I am in life right now. People spend a lot of time extolling how happy they are for me, so pleased that all wrongs have been made right and I am whole again. It feels ungrateful to disagree, to remind people that I still have loss. That I will always have loss. I’m an amputee. I’ve lost my arm and no amount of new things will ever cure me of this missing limb. Remarriage isn’t a cure for divorce, any more than a successful pregnancy cures a miscarriage.

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