My hands were shaking as I struggled to type the words in my phone. I was in crisis mode and I had finally accepted that I had reached the end of my own abilities to handle the weight of my burdens and all that was unraveling around me.
My husband and I had been separated for 8 weeks and we were at a tremendously critical point in our marriage, my emotions were so raw and fragile and my spirit was in a state of brokenness that I had never experienced. Over the course of those 8 weeks many traumatic events had occurred in my life. I had traveled from AZ to NY with my second oldest son (18 for only 3 weeks) and left him there alone to attend college. One of the most painful things I’ve ever endured. I returned home from that trip only to learn the following morning that my closest aunt had experienced a heart attack so severe that she was in a coma and would not recover. She was my mom’s best friend and so deeply loved by our family that the shock of her sudden passing was a grief we were not prepared for. I left for Michigan two days after returning home from NY to attend her funeral. My younger three children had been physically without me for the better part of two weeks at that point, as I had been busy with college prep, packing, and traveling, but I had been emotionally absent for much longer. Returning from Michigan only offered a short and surface level reprieve while I wrestled with the reality of the absence of my 18 year old. Then just three weeks after returning home from her funeral I had to make the painful decision to put our 12 year old Golden Retriever down…which was far more painful than I ever imagined it would be, for myself as well as my children. And as it often goes with the ironies of life…one week after that difficult day, my youngest son was bit by a dog while at a friend’s house and I could not go be with him because I was contractually obligated to remain at an event I was photographing for four more hours. I was collapsing under the weight of my burdens…physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Three weeks after the dog bite occurred, as I was still in the midst of beating myself up for not being more physically available and emotionally present for my younger kids, I had to make another trip…this time to CA for work. That trip unexpectedly turned out to be a wonderfully blessed girl trip with my mom and daughter after my mom insisted on going with me literally the morning that I was leaving. However…that trip was initially supposed to be a trip taken with my husband, so despite the blessing the trip turned out to be, it was surrounded in deep sadness for me and I spent much of the trip fighting off tears and fighting a hard battle with depression.
During the following 6 months my husband and I remained separated and I continued being a full time single working mom. All of those events, emotionally wrecking events, happened while I was alone. I was over busy with work and kids activities and traveling and carpools and holidays and sleep deprivation and the exhausting work of just trying to be ok…and I’d literally never been so strung out and ‘not ok’ in all my life. The holidays that year were surrounded by extreme sadness after just coming through deaths and living right in the midst of separations from people I love. Those closest to me, the handful of friends who really knew what my life looked like kept telling me how strong I was…but I was the furthest thing from strong. I felt like I was dying…every single day. Physically and emotionally…just dying.
“I need help.” Those were the most difficult words to type that day. I didn’t want to have to ask for help. I didn’t want to need help. I wanted to be able to handle everything on my own. I wanted everyone to continue believing I was strong and I feared that admitting I needed help meant that I was weak…and I didn’t want to be seen as weak. But I was weak…and I did need help.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9
That March, my husband moved home again…and things were wonderful for a few months. I optimistically felt like I had finally finished the ‘sad’ chapter of my book and was moving toward the happy ending. It was short lived though…a few weeks later I was hit with the first of what would be the three most consecutively devastating blows I have ever experienced in my life…outside of my brother’s death and my mom’s cancer diagnosis. I would rather relive ANY other horrible event in my life outside of those five things. The three blows came literally one right after another…first involving my marriage…and then my children…and then my children again. I was devastated in a way that I have never experienced in my life. Five days after being delivered the first blow…my oldest son moved to Colorado…and the tremendous sadness over that reality just got tossed around in the mix of the devastation I was dealing with…so I added guilt to my already overbearing heartbreak. I spent the next week of my life vacillating back and forth between rage and paralyzing grief…sometimes on an hourly basis. Hurting, hating, wishing I could die because dying surely would be easier than living through this.
Five short days after the first blow came the second…and four days after that – the third. It was like being burned alive…I wanted nothing more than to die…but I couldn’t die…I was just living in hell. I don’t think that anything can hurt worse than pain that involves your children. I literally felt physical pain…as if my heart were being ripped apart, shred by agonizing shred. For several days I stared at walls. I existed in a tunnel of pain. I couldn’t hear people speak to me most of the time…and when they did I was often shocked by my own inability to comprehend any of the words coming from their mouths. Familiar sounds…but nothing made sense. I couldn’t eat. Sometimes I had to remind myself to breathe.
I hated myself and I blamed myself when I grew exhausted from hating and blaming others.
I lied to myself that surely I could have prevented all of this, as if I actually control anything. But, I can almost always find a way to blame myself. For days I lived in a constant state of the agonizing conflict of wanting so badly to end my life…yet knowing full well that I would never. Those same days were spent under the crushing weight of feeling like I had to fix it all…believing that I was the only one responsible for fixing it all…the only one capable of fixing it all…but also knowing deep in my soul that I couldn’t fix ANY of it AT ALL.
The literal saving grace for me in the midst of this darkest of seasons was my 15 year old son’s baptism. It was as if God had personally wrapped up the most treasured gift a mother could ever ask for…and delivered it to me just when I most desperately needed it. The experience of that whole evening served to change my heart in tremendous ways. I was freshly reminded that grace and forgiveness are gifts of profound love…and for the first time in weeks I felt almost a desperation to show love and to forgive in response to the love and forgiveness Jesus had poured out on me…undeservedly and repeatedly. So with my whole, yet still very fragile, heart…I loved and I forgave.
The vast brokenness of that year is still not ‘fixed’…we all still wear the scars. The truth is, this side of heaven, we will never be fully fixed. But His mercies are new every morning…and within a couple weeks of merciful mornings…my eyes slowly, but weakly, began looking up again…at the only One who CAN fix things…the same One who promises that He WILL.
Navigating the traumas of life is something we will all experience…there is no escaping the tremendous pain of living in a fallen world. But it’s amazing what a perspective change will do for our heart condition. We MUST lift our eyes UP to see the beauty in the midst of the ashes.
IT’S IMPOSSIBLE FOR MAN TO FOCUS ON BOTH THE INTRICATELY THREADED DETAILS AND THE FULL TAPESTRY SIMULTANEOUSLY.
If we are locked in and narrowly focused on the details of our current situation in life…pain, fear, burdens, trials, grief…whatever it may be, it is virtually impossible to see the beauty of the grander picture of God at work…even in the midst of our most traumatic and painful seasons of life. But, if we step back enough to focus on the bigger picture…the grander picture of where God is at work…we can no longer be quite as focused on the pain amidst the details. It’s in the pulling back, and the looking up, when we can see the full scope of where our help comes from…our hope, our comfort, our joy…but we must purpose to lift our eyes up to see JESUS.
God is not limited by perspective. He intimately knows the source of every gripping fear we face, every heartache we suffer, and every tear we shed. With hearts submitted to Him, He is the sculptor, painter and author of every one of our stories. He sovereignly controls and perfectly manages the big beautiful picture…all while simultaneously gripping our hand tightly and navigating us through the intricate and delicate details. It’s nothing short of miraculous the way He uses the ugliest, darkest…even the most excruciatingly painful of our experiences…to create such a gloriously beautiful masterpiece that can only be fully seen and understood when you step back and lift your eyes up.
I lift my eyes up to the mountains,
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from You;
Maker of heaven, creator of the earth.
Oh how I need You Lord,
You are my only hope,
You’re my only prayer.
So I will wait for You,
To come and rescue me,
Come and give me life.