Grief is some, but not all.

 Grief is some, but not all. | erikaspitler.com

If you've stopped by since I last wrote, you know my family received jarring news this spring. It pains me to say it, but my dad chose to leave us and his marriage for something new. And as he did, a decade's worth of carefully stowed brokenness was made visible. On March 1st, our family crossed into some formidable land—a land where many others live but few of us feel free to mention. (Especially us church folks, darnit.) The consequences of sin and its many ugly sidekicks have been emotionally flattening.

In 7 months, this burden has multiplied in weight and complexity, which I know isn't what you want to hear when you ask, are things getting better yet? I wish, friend. I wish I could say I'm leaping over hills of forgiveness, free from anger and trauma and the HOWCOULDYOU?! Would you be horrified to know some days, I've thought about huddling with bitterness on my doorstep forever? Thankfully, God snaps me out of it. I'm committed to forgiveness because it's right and I won't back away. You can be sure I'll need the Holy Spirit to give me courage on every inch of that gravel-filled road, but perhaps that's the point. It's too much on my own. 

Also, this spring, my grandmother unexpectedly died. I couldn't make the trip north for her funeral, so all I had to hold onto was an online obituary, the Hallmark cards I'd saved in her blue, swirly writing, and the distant memory of her voice. Emotions for me were at a standstill. Just this weekend, my cousin texted photos of our grandmother's things, asking what I might want to keep. I requested three juice glasses to remember her by, kitchenware I've likely never seen but will now have to myself.

My dad's and grandmother's absence both happened suddenly. The family framework I'd always known snapped in two months and while I successfully functioned on autopilot at first, my physiological response was eventually clinical depression. I call it the summer of darkness—the one where I lost all interests, struggled to converse or socially engage, spent my off-hours sleeping or taking 6 hours to pull off the covers, couldn't make meals or carry through with obligations, and only whispered (or screamed) a prayer with microscopic faith once in awhile. Life was two-dimensional.

After the diagnosis, my therapist and I started an important conversation on medication and what that could look like. Upfront, neither of us wanted to rush me to the pharmacy counter but as the weeks plodded along, the help of a pill seemed more necessary. I couldn't recognize the girl I'd become in this low-functioning state and condemned myself for the nothingness lingering inside. Being a follower of Jesus and dealing with mental illness are not mutually exclusive and I knew that full well. But the remains of old, faulty theology showed itself and let's just say it: shame is a beast.

All these months, I'd been working at a school for students with severe physical disabilities. My interview was the morning of March 1st, mere hours before I sat weeping with my mom and sister. This was no accident. Later I would thank God over and over for his timing—even the timing of very, very bad news. He gave me the peace to accept my dream position after 15 months of unemployment. He knew the joy of being with those kids would be the only motivation to get out of bed. 

On my second morning of work, I'll never forget driving under a rainbow. That image has stayed with me—a moment I realized beauty and sorrow can occupy space together. It's been a gritty (rhyme with an offensive word if it's your style) year so far and we're still recovering. Yet grief is not the whole of it. When my boss took a chance on me, God showed me the kind of work which livens up my soul right in the middle of death, loss, and depression. This August, with no medication, color miraculously returned to my world. My therapist and I were astonished, knowing God didn't have to lift it. He did, though. I could begin giving real feet to my grief, consciously walking through the effects of trauma. The fall came, and I started to study again after 7 years. One of the course modules is focused on a theology of suffering. Timely, right? I hear stories from around the world of people gripping onto hope through illness and disability and societal wounds... and I get to join in. There's one more I'd add, but it requires a post of its own. God's kindness is all over my family's messiest year. Beauty, sorrow.

These prolonged periods of pain are awfully uncomfortable. I might pay to find a fast forward button on suffering one day. But till then, I'm taking today's moment, which is all I have, and believing in a God who wastes not one thing.

My faith is a tiny, tiny sprout.
However, it's there, and I think he can work with that.

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* This post was updated 10/19 to provide further clarity.