I used to have really bad temper tantrums when I was 4, the age of my daughter now. Thank you Jesus I’m not dealing with those same ones with her (sorry mom). My parents saw a counselor to try to figure out how to help me deal with all my many emotions. The thing was I had all the feels. I felt all things huge and big and loud. (some may say those characteristics equate to leaders someday so take heart you moms and dads.) The counselor said I needed to learn how to catch my breath so I could begin to self-soothe.
Because of this whenever I would have these big fits I needed to have a space where I could work through them safely. So my parents would put me in the bathroom. No seriously they did.
My parents were told that when they heard me take a deep breath they could unlock the door and help me through it. I don’t remember how many I had (I’m sure my mom could tell you) but I’m sure there was a rhythm to the process: the temper tantrum, the locked bathroom door, the first self-soothing deep breath, my mom unlocking the door, and helping me over the threshold into the rest of my day.
There is one image though that forever is burned into my brain. It’s the shadow of my mom’s toes peaking under the light cracks of the threshold of the door.
You see my mom would stand there on the other side of the door until that first self-soothing breath.
She didn’t leave.
And what it communicated to me as a 4 year old was endlessly powerful. She wasn’t going to leave me. She was ready to help me work through it. To have the door opened and walk over the threshold. No matter how nasty, chaotic, or irritating my tantrum was the shadow of my mom’s toes were there. With no words her actions communicated “I’m not going anywhere. I’m right here. I’m in this with you. I’m not leaving you. Take a deep breath.”
She chose to stand in it with me.
Now as an adult and a mom myself I see this metaphor of my mom’s feet as an imagery of just how much God loves me in my grief and brokenness whispering to me, “I love you with an everlasting love. I will not leave you. I’m standing in this with you. Take a deep breath. Let me help you get to the threshold and walk into a fresh start, a new beginning.”
And this imagery reminded me that I had felt this feeling before.
6 years ago I was there again…on the bathroom floor but this time it wasn’t in my childhood home but in my own home here in Charlotte.
The same deep cries of childhood but this time I couldn’t catch my breath in real grief and agony. You see I had learned earlier that day that our first baby no longer had a heartbeat. What I wasn’t prepared for the physical and emotional responses my body was going through that night. This time I didn’t see my mom’s toes under the door.
It was just me and God.
That night was filled with unfiltered grief at what I was experiencing and this deeper reality of a disoriented picture that didn’t make sense in my head. This wasn’t suppose to happen. I didn’t want this a part of my story, my journey. I desperately wanted to be rescued and I begged and bargained with God. I just wanted to know why.
In my cries, in my despair I became aware of His Presence standing in it with me so incredibly thick that I literally felt like I could reach out and touch him that night. His metaphorical toes were clearly there beaconing me to take a breath and reminding me that He was standing in it with me. He was there and would be there until I could reach the threshold and we could emerge in a new beginning together.
Over the next few months my life started to feel like a time in the wilderness. And crossing that “threshold” took a longer time than back when I was 4. In fact what happened over the next few months surprised me. For the girl so filled with emotions and feelings as I child… I no longer knew how to feel my feelings. The once 4 year old girl who could feel everything was suddenly a 20 something that couldn’t take a deep breath and walk to the threshold. I had forgotten how.
I think when you experience pain you have two responses. You can stand in it and allow the grief to take you on a journey of change and wholeness or you can run and hide from it. And the truth is those two options present itself moment by moment with each breath. There were plenty of times where I chose to run and hide. To shut down my feelings and forget how to feel. But even in those moments I felt this pull to go back on the bathroom floor. To stand in it and do the hard work.
The hard work for me was allowing myself the freedom and space to obey my sadness. To stand in it and not rush past it. To use my time in the wilderness to learn to take deep breaths again and to process. A lot of processing.
I started asked big questions. Our miscarriage was the first milestone marker of many markers that have come where life for me just didn’t fit nicely into the boxes anymore. I was faced with all these big questions and my once sure self found all my answers to be cliche and just plain unhelpful. Beautiful sentiments and good-natured advice I had once expressed to dear friends were just words that didn’t hold up anymore.
You’ve heard them too I’m sure.
Everything happens for a reason. If I could forever ban a sentence from being spoken again, it would be this one.
What’s good about these cliche phrases is they sound really pretty and hopeful and it makes you feel like you’ve helped when you say them but under the weight of real grief they just don’t hold up.
So I kept standing in my grief.
And I let go of the cliche answers and my ability to rationalize my experience because I knew the whole time that Jesus’ was standing in it with me. That was my only sure thing I knew.
Every time I chose to stand in the wilderness with my pain it felt like God was teaching me relentless HOPE. Rugged and raw nonetheless but HOPE. And every time I had the urge to run I held on to this verse and I went back in.
“And now, here’s what I’m going to do:
I’m going to start all over again.
I’m taking her back out into the wilderness
where we had our first date, and I’ll court her.
I’ll give her bouquets of roses.
I’ll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope.
She’ll respond like she did as a young girl,
those days when she was fresh out of Egypt.
Over the past 6 years this belief of Jesus STANDING in my grief and wilderness with me is no longer just about our miscarriage. It’s really about all things. It’s about noticing, accepting, a recognizing that in life there is always some form of grief or loss.
We all have things we need to stand in.
We can run and hide from it and not be able to feel the feelings anymore or we can become aware that Jesus’ is standing in it with us and take a breath in the wilderness with him. And through it we can gather up the courage to remain still enough to sense His presence and in the collective strength find that we can walk through the threshold together.
Shaia writes in his book Heart and Mind, “God is certainly capable of rescuing us, but God will not rescue us, because rescue would stop our journey. The journey is long and full. It contains peacefulness, joy and ecstasy, pain, conflict, and paradox- all of which we must eventually learn to balance in order to reach a capacity for inner serenity. This is the way of Jesus.”
And it’s so true. If I had been rescued that night I wouldn’t have the perspective I have today. I wouldn’t have the context to stand in real pain with others. I wouldn’t have the lens of someone in the wilderness. I wouldn’t have the privilege to carry their burdens into my soul too. I wouldn’t have begin my journey of processing the answers I thought I knew.
At some point I began to feel the sense that my time in the wilderness was changing me and it was time for the next phase in my travels. I had reached the metaphoric threshold between the bathroom floor and the house.
Sarah Bessey’s book Out of Sorts discusses a threshold as a place of change.
She writes, “We sort through our mess on the threshold of change, don’t we? When we are moving. When there has been a death. When someone leaves. When we need the space. When we are changing in some way. Even if we’re glad to be getting rid of things there is still an emotional attachment to our stuff that plays out as we figure out what needs to stay and what needs to go…to figure out what we need to keep, what we need to toss, and what we need to reclaim…I’ve come to believe that there is always a bit of grief sorting out of a life, to making sense of the stories and moments and intersections, in our ability to move forward with integrity.”
I didn’t know then what I know now. That our miscarriage started me on a journey that gave me new eyes, new words, and the ability to stand in the mess with others I meet along the way.
Beloveds, If you ever have the honor to carry someone’s grief-stricken heart inside your own, you have just entered the most sacred place. And it’s holy ground; only able to be walked on by those of us that have been there before. Stand in it with them. Don’t love from a distance. You’ve gained far too much insight to waste it with a cliche.
But be warned: It will make you journey back to your bathroom floor again. Sort through everything once more. You’ll get to another threshold of change.
And you’ll be surprised.
Surprised at how you respond, deeply grieve, and hold the tension of knowing your loved one must stand in the wilderness even though it’s easier to run.
As a 30 something now, I’m learning that there can be parts of grief in the good stuff. I had never really thought about that concept before. I thought grief and wilderness times were reserved for the painful tragedies.
Over the past two years for us it’s been the changing of careers, the venturing of new family directions in foster care, even sorting through the theological ideas I used to hold onto about God and faith. Letting go of the picture I had in my head or the realization that my daughters are growing, or the small box I had put God in, although good, still hold a bit of grief as we toss it and it’s important to stand those things as well.
And so I stand in it. I allow it to be what it is. I don’t rush my feelings and I do the hard work in the wilderness.
And I see it.
Jesus’ toes in the shadows at the threshold of the bathroom floor.