“…I am trying to get at something utterly heartbroken
and therefore utterly heartbreaking.”
– Van Gogh, to his brother Theo
This week post-Hutchmoot has had me in every kind of direction — stretching, compressing, bending, and breaking.
I’ve had fine days, dazed days, and days where I lie weeping on the studio floor.
And I haven’t been able to explain it, I’ve barely been able to put into words the swirling storm clouds and raging seas inside of me. I’ve pushed through the pain to paint, only to forget my thoughts when I would have the time to gather them. I’ve lain awake late into the early morning, soaking my pillow with tears, and waking to no memory of the words that wrecked me. So here I sit, hoping to draw out the truth that has broken me.
The easiest place to start is at the first HM dinner. In conversation with strangers and new friends, I reflected over the story Andrew shared of the Wailing Wall, and his hope that we all would press in, and long for that which/Whom awaits us on the other side. I realized, and quickly shared with the inquisitive acquaintance across the table from me, that I’ve been standing at that wall for a long time now. Easily 5 years I’ve stood, head pressed against the stone, sobbing, whispering, sometimes screaming for the wall to finally break and the light to come through. I’ve been looking back to those gathered behind me, beckoning them to come and see for themselves. To ache and long with nature for the adoption of sons. To catch glimpses with me of the coming Kingdom; to rejoice at His nearness and yearn for even more. Some have taken me up on that, standing watch with me, refilling my oil lamp, and taking turns keeping one another’s hope alive. But over these years, many have refused my offer, perhaps turned off by the obvious ache the wall burned within me. And recently, more than I can bear, who had stood by my side have stepped back, hands off the wall, distancing themselves from the struggle of belonging to another homeland. Longing for those behind, and for the Kingdom ahead, has left me torn in two. Staring off into space, seeing nothing and feeling less, I’ve slowly dropped to the ground, back to the wall, stuck in the middle, and feeling the hollow, echoing chasm. I told this new friend, the one with a present heart and seeing eyes, that what I was most hoping for from this weekend was a renewed hope, that others too stand at the wall with me, that not everyone has lost heart, that it’s all still worth the fight.
On the drive down to Nashville, my brother and I spent a lot of time processing personality types — our own and others’. I had recently realized that I likely have always been an INFJ, even though I seemed far more extroverted in late high school – early college. This apparent extroversion, that has so confused me, was easily explained by the fact that I was surrounded by a safe group of people, who knew me as I was and loved me there. Life changed that, and with all of the disillusionment of recent years, I’ve had only a few breaks in the clouds — few times where I felt safe enough to be myself and trust that I could be loved.
I’m sure many of you who met me this last weekend would be surprised by my Introverted label. I was surprised by myself — how extroverted I was, and how it left me filled, thrilled, and content, instead of drained and afraid. It didn’t take me long to realize why — I was safe with you all. Every deep conversation I had with a new stranger, every laugh and simple act of camaraderie, opened wide my heart to I find I was still loved. It didn’t take long to dive headlong into that, and every time I began to fear that I’d crossed a line, that I’d shared too much or gone too deep, you dear souls leapt that chasm with me and took it even further, or at least welcomed my heart with open arms. The Lord had tilled that earth within me, and the seeds you sowed and watered with shared tears and knowing glances grew up a garden of life.
We didn’t all agree on everything. We weren’t all in the same phase or stage of life. We didn’t have the same testimonies, church backgrounds, theologies, or “spiritual experiences.” We didn’t all read the same books or listen to the same preachings. We shared a few musicians, authors, and artists in common, many of whom were with us, but none of us were defined by our similarities, or confined by our differences. For a short while, I thought that would make it easier to leave. I even made the horrible remark to my brother that, “It’s not like these are my people. I’m thankful for that or I don’t know how I’d leave tomorrow. It’s been wonderful and sweet and I’m so thankful for them, but I’ll be okay to go back to normal life.”
I was really, really wrong.
When we walked away from the group at Breakfastmoot Monday morning, I immediately knew how wrong I had been. I felt like my heart was stuck behind, and every step onward was pulling it out of my chest. In the car, Sower’s Song began playing, and I wept as I drove because I had finally seen you all as my fellow coworkers in the field, following Him together.
The next 5 hours passed without incident, until I started falling asleep. We turned on the Les Miserables soundtrack because we could sing to it for the last 2 hours of our trip. As we pulled off the interstate I thought to myself, “Wow, we have almost made it to the end and it hasn’t made me emotional. Self-five!”
Pulling in the driveway, as the epilogue song begins it’s conclusion, it hit me all over again. Crossing the threshold of Heaven, the priest who introduced Valjean to grace sings:
The truth that once was spoken
To love another person
Is to see the face of God.
Which, of course, showed me all of your faces, and the way I know more of God’s face because I know you.
And then, standing on that Heavenly Barricade they begin to sing together:
Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
Who are climbing to the light.
For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
And the sun will rise.
They will live again in freedom
In the garden of the Lord.
We will walk behind the ploughshare;
We will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
And all men will have their reward.
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
When tomorrow comes!
And I wept for the last stretch, as we pulled into the driveway, “home,” and yet not quite.
Many of you have shared lovely stories and sentiments since coming home — how you’ve been able to be thankful for dirty dishes, been more present with your children, and approach your lives in your hometowns with joy and anticipation. I’ve rejoiced with you, and yet your words have filled me with more torment because I have not had that same experience. The first day was a haze through which I floated. The next day I kept hurting those I love, left and right, lashing out without intention and not knowing why. The third day I spent crying, oscillating between anger and crushing grief. Then I dove back into chores and life and giving my time to others, forgetting the struggle — until it caught up to me at the doors of Chick-fil-a. As I walked in, I had a twinge of nostalgia, and then my heart sank as I figured out why. I realized, in this first large crowd of people, I was expecting to look up and see all of you– see the faces of those I’d come to love. I expected to be surrounded by kindred souls with whom, even if we didn’t interact, I was safe. Instead, I saw strangers; strangers with whom no such safeness was promised, and I remembered again my loneliness.
That night I laid awake in bed, writing out in my head the post that needed to be written, that captured the full-breadth of my emotions, my grief and my anger. The tears I cried as I eloquently and passionately dumped all of my thoughts, lulled me to sleep. I woke to sit and write, but the words and feelings had escaped me.
2 days later, life has smoothed some of the edges of my anger and left it smoldering embers, hushed by the normalcy of life around me. I don’t want that rage again within me, at the same time, I don’t know that it is supposed to die passively. I think it had something worth saying, something worth being heard.
When I first recognized my anger, I was painting and listening to the Hutchmoot Spotify playlist. The heavy emotion left my brain hazy, making it hard to do the thing that naturally gives me such peace.
I was angry at the battlefield of broken bodies in which I was standing. I was angry that life has to be this way — that the ones who were supposed to be healers were the ones wounding; that they put a burden on men’s shoulders that they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to carry. Then I was angry at myself and those close to me; that we’ve let the enemy have his way as he torched our churches and relationships. And it feels like we haven’t put up enough of a fight, even though that’s the work we’ve been about for years now: fighting his schemes as best as we know them. I grew angry at this accuser of the brethren, wishing for his end with every fiber of my being, for the poison he has leached into our bones. But soon that anger turned. I found myself wanting to storm the halls of Heaven, push away the accuser, to point my finger at the High King.
“Why have You allowed him to do this to us? We, the children in which You have made Your home. Will this torment ever end?”
And I knew that was wrong of me.
I couldn’t even think past that thought.
My shoulders slumped, and the tears came, and I couldn’t reach out for the comforting arms of my Abba whom I had just accused. So I balled up on the floor of my studio, the same way a babe lays in her mother’s womb, and I wept. I wept for Jerusalem, for the Coming King, for the day we get to sit across the banquet table from those we loved and lost to this battle of life. To again say, “You too?” because there is no longer a yawning chasm between us. To be safe again. To be loved and to know it.
And I wept for each of you — for your faces, and stories, and hearts that have been etched into the fabric of my soul as beloved sisters and brothers. And the groaning of my spirit interceded with the words I didn’t have– that you would be built up and steadfast, that God would protect your hearts, that the enemy’s poison would have no hold on you, and that I would see you again.
Now, in hindsight, I can see my tears and prayers echo the same longings of Apostle Paul in Philippians 1, 2 Timothy 1, and so many other places. Thus, then, is it the “curse” we all must bear in the body, that we can only taste communion together, just enough to rekindle and maintain the longing, until we all are finally Home?
I don’t have answers. I don’t have a happy ending to this blog.
I wish I did.
But I figured, if there was any place where I could just be wrecked and grieved, holding out the tiniest flicker of hope to keep on, it would be here with you all. And maybe one of you knows this feeling too, and maybe our flickering candles would be enough to keep us warm through the night, until the sun rises anew and we can see the white fields ahead of us. Maybe we’ll share a smile as we see the Sower call us on, and we’ll walk behind the plowshare, humming the same song.
We kneel in the water
The sons and the daughters
And we hold our hearts before us
And we look to the distance
And raise our resistance
In the face of the forces
Gathered against usAnd we dream in the nightOf a King and a KingdomWhere joy writes the songsAnd the innocent sing them