Home Safe Home

I gave myself a haircut this weekend. 

I have long curly hair, so it was forgiving. There was a piece I couldn’t get right in the back, and I let my 9 year old (assisted by my husband) cut it. It created a gap. I don’t care.

I’m relieved to improve a head of hair that was looking pitiful. 

I’m relieved I didn’t have to drive anywhere. I don’t like being reminded of the accident when I drive. I’m scared in traffic.

I’m relieved I didn’t have to go to a public place. I didn’t have to sit in a waiting room, surrounded by other ladies out for manicures or highlights. I just can’t.

I’m relieved I didn’t have to make small talk with a stylist. I didn’t have to maneuver around sensitive questions, pretend that I had a great Christmas, or listen to someone jabber about how nice it is that “all” the kids are back in school. I didn’t have to choose between being fake and lying, or telling the truth and dealing with pity, or the “I can relate my (insert distant relative here) died last year” attempts at conversation. No one tried to tell me that my nice new haircut would surely make me feel better. 

Grief and PTSD have changed how I experience the world. What used to be easy or even enjoyable is now complicated, and drains me of all energy. 

I might learn how to do all sorts of things, just to stay in the safety of my own house.

Dreams

Bright lights and white walls… The doctors come and tell us that Samuel is brain dead… They want to stop life support… I ask for one more day… I know he will wake up tomorrow if they just give him one more day… I beg, but they shake their heads… They walk out the door and down the hall to stop Samuel’s ventilator… 

The sound of crying in the house… Jeremy searches room to room… He finds Jana and Michael, but the crying continues… He realizes it is Samuel… He runs through the house, but can’t find him… The crying continues. ..

We are splashing in the lake… Samuel steps into water over his head and disappears… I dive for him, stretching out my hands to find him, but only touch water… It is too muddy to see… I know he is there, just out of reach… I keep searching, my fingers sifting the empty water… 

When Normal Feels Like A Warning

There is a feel-good car commercial airing lately. A soothing narrator talks while a family drives down the road. Kids laugh, a mother rests her hand on her expectant baby bump, a father looks in the rear view mirror and smiles at his son. A few more clips of different families in their cars as the years pass, some gentle music, and at the end they all arrive home, content and safe.

Every time it comes on, I tense. The first few times I saw it, I was so anxious I left the room. I was confused by this. There is nothing frightening, no foreshadowing, but I just know it’s going to be one of those commercials that shocks you by having a crash happen out of nowhere. I don’t want to see the family staggering, hurt, dying. It came on multiple times before I could remember it ended well. Even knowing this, I feel nervous when I see it.

It took weeks to figure it out. Because of the way our accident happened, happiness and normalcy feel like a set-up for something terrible. There were no indicators that our lives were about to change, no skidding car sounds or squealing brakes. I didn’t see her speeding towards us. Casual, pleasant family conversation, and suddenly we were living in a horrible new world. 

Now, the fact that there is no warning, feels like a warning. 

Hundreds of every day moments. I cannot feel safe. 

Escaping with Grief…Iceland

The bitter wind today reminds me of the first morning I woke up in Iceland. My grief took me there last April, desperate to be surrounded by a backdrop of nature that was as secluded and barren and desolate as my soul.

Can I just say that you know you’ve found a true friend if one day you casually mention you wish you could escape to Iceland, and your friend says, “Me too!” and then starts sending you links to tickets, because there are some really great deals if you fly there in the winter? 

Lost in Reykjavik

Our flight arrived at 5am, with our bodies protesting that it should still be the middle of the night. We spent the day meandering our way across the country, getting lost, trying to decipher road signs in Icelandic, chancing upon the most amazing vegetarian lunch buffet ever, and stopping a hundred times to take photos of the increasingly stunning scenery. We found a famous landmark and ventured out of the car to explore, only to give up a few minutes later because the gale-force winds blew us around as if we had the weight of dead leaves. The Icelanders seemed unfazed by the weather, going about their morning business. I think continual exposure to all that arctic wind builds exceptionally strong leg muscles. 

We were headed for Hellnar, a tiny fishing village with only 10 permanent residents. As we got further north, the rain that had pelted us all day switched over to a white-out snow storm. We drove the last half-hour white-knuckled and sliding on a cliff-side road along the ocean. It was late by the time Kelly and I arrived at our cabin, worn out, relieved that we survived without being blown off the road into the North Atlantic. We settled in, fixed a quick dinner, and found our beds. 

Ominous yet cheerful warning in our rental car

Sometime in the night I woke up to the cabin shaking. A howling storm slammed against our little house. Surely Icelanders know how to build structures to withstand conditions like this, I reassured myself. I pulled the covers over my head, and eventually fell back asleep to the roar of the storm.

I awoke with the sun. There were no sounds from Kelly’s room, she was still asleep. I put on my wool layers and new boots, and slipped quietly outside. I was elated. The icy wind stung my face, but the storms were over and my gloves were warm. I made my way towards the sea with a sense of awe. Mountains rose up to the empty sky behind me, and I could hear waves pounding the cliffs just down the hill. There were no other people. 

Isolated. 

It felt wonderful.

I explored, soaking in the hugeness of the landscape.

Right outside our cabin stood an old church, overlooking the sea. A picture of faith, standing alone in rocky fields of frozen grass. 

Church at Hellnar

Was it strong, unshaken through the storms, offering light and shelter to anyone wandering through the wilderness?

Or was it abandoned, a piece of history, the empty remains of a dying tradition?

Iceland is one of those places where nature dominates. Beauty and power, I alternately felt amazed and frightened by it. The mountains on the Snaefellsnes peninsula have been asleep for almost 2000 years, but evidence of their eruptions was still obvious. The ocean and storms demanded current respect. On multiple occasions I was afraid I would be blown into the frigid ocean. Even on calmer days the waves crashed into the cliffs with unsurvivable force. Falling in would be fatal. My primary goal on the trip quickly became, “No matter what, don’t end up in the water.”

The mighty North Atlantic

Everything about Iceland made me think of Psalm 46. 

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.

I wondered at tenacity of the people who landed in this spot, a thousand years ago, and thought it was a good place to live (without any of the modern conveniences that were helping me be comfortable). There were no trees, and there wasn’t even dirt for farming, the ground was all lava rock. Rock, mountains, sea, and wind. Somehow they hung on, made homes, and lived.

At home I am surrounded by a world that frets about things like technology and organic ingredients and traffic, and parades it’s excess on social media for all to applaud. I shrink into myself, because in an environment like that, there is no proper place for my grief outside of my own home. I’ve always been on the fringes of culture because I am a little too intense, too serious. Grief has amplified this. 

Wandering this rugged corner of the world was the first time since Samuel died that I felt free. My grief fit in that remote place. It was right to explore the endless empty foothills, to feel the world so much bigger than myself. It was OK to enjoy making friends with an Icelandic horse, or find satisfaction in a bowl of warm soup, coffee and cake, because all of Iceland was about finding small comforts in a harsh land. Just like grief. It was about being determined to survive in inhospitable conditions. Just like grief. It was about the hope of finding beauty in unexpected places. Just like grief.

 

Who Are You God?

Darkness closes in. It’s always been there, on the edges of my world, but I’ve kept it safely away with faith and hope, along with some denial and selective attention. I’ve focused on the light…the love of God, his final victory, goodness in people around me, beauty and tastes of joy. 

Now the light has disappeared, and it’s only darkness. It’s everywhere. In our own home it’s the death of Samuel and the silence of God. In our neighborhood it’s the family whose 5th grader was just diagnosed with cancer. Their middle school son has already battled leukemia twice. This is too much pain for one family. I see darkness in the lonely, the hungry, the addicted, the victim. There are wars and famines and floods. There is brutality and abuse. The world is overrun with horrible, horrible darkness. 

I find myself asking questions that have confused thousands of others before me. How can God allow this? If he hates it, if he is good, if he is powerful, how? 

I know the usual answers. But I am surrounded by darkness, and they no longer satisfy me. They only worked when most of my world was light. 

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God, why did you take my son? It would have been better for you to take me instead.

Why have you hidden from me? I look to you for answers, but you cannot be found. You have left me when I’ve needed you the most.

You promised to be near to the brokenhearted, but I am alone and find no peace.

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I wonder if God is different than I’ve believed. 

I don’t doubt that God is there. Science and nature point me to something, or someone, bigger than what I see. To accept that marvelous complexity and beauty is random is too much of a stretch. I believe in a creator. 

But what is the character of this creator? Beautiful and powerful, bigger than me. Those things I see. 

Is he good?

I continue to get stuck on this.

He allows suffering. The Bible is clear about this, and my observations of life concur. There is a lot of suffering. He chooses to use suffering as a refining process, as a test of faith. He allows us to suffer so he will increase in glory, and to display his power. And sometimes suffering is a punishment. There might be more reasons too, but these he has acknowledged.

Job

Is it good that God uses us, in painful ways, to promote his own glory? This seems to be what happened to Job. God wanted to show Satan just how faithful Job would be, so he allowed Job to lose everything. I admit, this story has always made me cringe. It seems dark. God comes across like a bully, and Job the victim. If God is good and just in using Job in this way, I have to reevaluate who I am in relation to who God is. This story makes me much, much smaller, and God much bigger than I find comfortable.

It’s one thing to consider these things in theory. When confronted with a taste of it, I found I wasn’t actually ready to go there. It’s easier to sing words of surrender on Sunday morning, set to a crescendo of worship music, than hold my child’s life before God with open hands. I would have failed Abraham’s test with Isaac. No, God. Not my child. That’s too much to ask. That can’t be good. I don’t want you to have full rights to my life if this is where it’s going.

How big is God? And how insignificant, exactly, am I? Am I willing to exist for his glory alone? Does God’s love make that all OK? And why in the world would God create us for his purposes, and then program us to want our own? It’s as if he designed us to be conflicted. He wrote it on our hearts to be fulfilled when we follow him, yet gave us free will to choose differently. 

A set up, so he could be glorified? 

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