In 2014, I struggled to discover peace and hope in the midst of grief and sorrow. As I journeyed along my path of life, I was at times blinded, dazed and confused by intense pain. Rather than roads of cement, asphalt, cobblestone, gravel or even dirt, I found myself in deserts and deep, dark valleys. I crawled, cried, pulled, scraped and dug my way through terrain littered with boulders, loose rock, dry crusty chunks of debris, twists, turns and unexpected caverns and deep pits.
However, as of January 7, 2015, I found myself on a new path, beyond the worst of the rugged terrain. I had survived those inescapable, painful landmines and landmarks that you have to get beyond as you travel during the first 12 months after a death. My last "firsts" were Thanksgiving, the one-year anniversary of Kevin's death, Christmas, New Year's Eve, and the one-year anniversary of his Mom's death.
Finally, I had arrived on the other end, had located a clear, uncluttered road and was laying a course for a new destination in a new year. Ms. Independent (aka, “ME”) prepared for and plotted my trajectory for newness. I made resolutions, committed to change, put a smile on my face, shrugged my shoulders back, arms at my side, head up, eyes forward. Look to the new road. No more boulders. Leave the pain behind. Pick up those feet. Lift the knees high. March in step! Everything is great! Away I go….
Left, right, left, right, left, right…... CRASH.
Uuuugggg….. What just happened?
I shook my head and attempted to assess the situation.
I was on the ground. My knees were scratched. There was a thin stream of blood running down the outside of my right leg just below the knee. My right ankle throbbed. The palms of my hands were red and puffy with bits of gravel mashed into several spots. Nothing seemed to be broken, but wow -- I hurt all over.
Uuuuuggggg….. I realized I had stepped into a crevice and found myself face down in the rock -- when I was supposed to be marching forward, head held high, along a smooth new road. Uuuuuugggggg…..
Okay -- the truth is, I didn’t really fall into a physical crevice. I have no blood trails, scrapes, gravel bites or twisted bones. However, I sure stumbled and tumbled downward and felt pain on an emotional level. In one quick moment I went from walking upright with a strong, prepared and confident attitude on a straight road leading to a new destination -- to crawling on my knees, feeling hurt, embarrassed, frustrated, angry, and sad. For a moment -- or a day -- I kind of panicked.
Questions ricocheted around in my brain like billiard balls in the opening shot of a game of pool. “How did this happen?” “I thought I was on a new road!” “What went wrong?” “How could I fall so quickly?” “What happened to my plan?” “What do I do now?” “How long will this last?” “It’s not fair…”
Next, the anger, frustration and pain started twisting inward. They targeted my spirit with spiked, vicious words of shame – “You don’t know what you’re doing.” “You should just stay here in this rut – it’s where you belong.” “You’ll just make more mistakes and fail.” “You’re fooling yourself if you think you can do this.” “Blah, Blah, Blah…” The barbs went deep and tried to create huge gaps in my confidence.
I'd found some real “holes” on my new path. But when I stopped, took a breath and carefully considered the reality of my situation, I recognized my plan -- and current slip -- weren't a failure. The experiences and feelings were very real. But there were still lessons to learn -- even when sitting inside of the unexpected...
First: I’ve been on a messy path through valleys and desert wasteland and truly have come a long way in the last year. This is a crack in the surface. It happens. All paths have cracks, crevices and even holes. There’s no avoiding them. They are part of every journey. They come in different sizes, but they are always there. I can choose to look at them as unexpected and ugly. Or I can accept them as part of the journey and choose how to respond when they come up. The choice is mine.
Next: I may think I’m independent and can walk on my own, but I can’t. God never leaves me. He also gives me others to help me. Sometimes He carries me and at other times He patiently walks with me, holding my hands and guiding my feet as I learn to walk on uncertain terrain. Family, friends, pets and strangers come alongside of me to provide strength and encouragement. I need them, and they need me. We are meant to live in community – to serve, to strengthen and to support each other on our journey. When I fall down, it hurts. I may even need to crawl for a while along the way. Fighting and trying to do it alone is the true problem. The sooner I look up and open my eyes, the sooner I’ll see that someone is there to help me learn to walk safely, and recover when I stumble. First aid is also readily available – comforting words, soap and water, a dry towel, soothing balm, bandages, a helping hand, someone to listen, a shoulder to cry on.
I have been reminded that newness doesn’t magically begin on a specific date or time. It doesn’t sprout out of resolutions, plans, or independence. It doesn’t come from a pain-free, smooth path. Newness comes as I experience and live the journey – no matter what the path looks like. God’s spirit lives within me. Pain is part of who I am. Joy is part of who I am. Faith is part of who I am. Hope is part of who I am. I shouldn’t be surprised or angry when I fall down and get messy or even discover I’m once again in the middle of the desert. Life is like that. It happens. Instead of fighting it, I can choose to trust God, hold onto His hands, place my feet on the path, learn new lessons, meet new people, rest in His arms of grace and discover treasures. As I breathe and experience life, God patiently weaves together all things – the good and the bad -- to create something new.
Yes -- newness comes every day -- in all shapes and sizes. Most importantly, it is my present – not my future. God can see it and help it happen, with or without my plans.....