Longing for Home

A few days after we announced my pregnancy to the world, there was a For Sale sign stuck into the grass in our front yard. A man showed up to our house to take photos of the rooms, and those photos were uploaded on a house listing. Strangers I’ll never meet have stepped foot in the closet where my clothes hang, the bathroom where I first learned there was a baby in my belly, the kitchen where I learned how to bake bread.

My husband and I are renting this house, and soon we’ll pack up our things and try again to make a home somewhere else.

I shouldn’t be so sentimental about a rental house, but we made this place a home and had no intention of leaving it so quickly. There’s an unmistakable feeling of being uprooted, of having the rug pulled out from under our feet yet again.

When I imagined the next few years of my life, I always imagined them against the backdrop of this home. I planned how we would arrange the furniture to turn one of the rooms into a nursery - a comfy chair in the corner by the window, changing table against that wall, crib other there. I imagined bringing home the baby growing in my belly to the familiar white walls and beige carpet. I imagined more dinners with my husband in the kitchen, celebrating Christmas this year in the living room, and watching more movies with our friends sprawled out on the couches.

When I saw the For Sale sign stuck in our yard, I was angry, the kind of angry that makes your heart beat fast in your chest and your eyes well up with tears. I blamed my anger on the sign, an exclamation point at the end of dashed hope that maybe we could stay here a little longer. When I finally got quiet and honest with myself, I was really angry at God.

Every morning it seems I wake up with a list running through my mind full of unmet expectations. I expected more years with my husband before taking on the titles of both wife and mom. I expected my aunt and uncle to be in my life for decades longer. I expected my job to be fulfilling rather than frustrating. I expected pregnancy to be easier physically than it has turned out to be. And I expected to live in this home for years, saving pennies away to hopefully buy a home later when we felt ready.

It seems no corner of my life has been left untouched by suffering these days. And yes, I trust that the Lord is good and loving and sovereign over each of these events and yes, I know each of these things can foster a greater dependence on him, and yes, I know there are still good things, candles in the darkness. But those words are so much easier to say than to live into, and I still find myself waking up to painful reminders of unmet expectations every morning.

Last week I texted one of my best friends a long list of all the things going wrong, all the things happening and not happening, all the things I want to stop and the things I fear will never stop. At the end of it, I was expecting her to echo back to me my own shame but she didn’t. She said all the things I had mentioned were really hard, and I cried.

Every new wave of suffering kept knocking the breath out of me, but life carried on as normal. There was no break, no slowness to process all the things that were happening. There were still dishes to do and laundry to wash and hours to work and prenatal vitamins to take. I felt like I had to carry on as normal too, talking to friends the same way, working the same way, praying the same way. I never made space to acknowledge I am sad and angry and confused.

My friend acknowledged it for me, and I think the Lord’s comfort is like that too. He has been present, witnessing the pain of his children and weeping with us. He never asked me to pretend like everything was great.

Nothing has been fixed, and if I’m honest, I don’t even feel all that much better. I am still sad and angry and exhausted. Acknowledging pain doesn’t make it go away, but I think it is a step in a good direction. I found myself echoing the psalmist this morning and praying, “How long, O Lord?” because I want things to be different, easier. They’re not yet and they may never be, but it was an honest prayer and I think God is after our honesty.

I don’t know what house I will be living in in a few months. I don’t know where the crib will be set up or what door I’ll walk through when the baby inside me has made his or her entrance into the world. It’s a hard place to be. Even in that hardness, what I know is that my heart is ultimately longing for home, true home, and that longing will not go unmet.

unnamed.jpg

The Rhythm of Faith in Grief

It has been eight months since my aunt passed away following a yearlong battle with cancer. It has been almost six months since my uncle, her husband, passed away unexpectedly after a sudden heart attack. They served the Lord faithfully and I can still hear the echoes of our prayers for healing. We pleaded and fasted and prayed to the Lord for a year to take away the cancer that had invaded her body, and the Lord did not heal her. We prayed desperately and earnestly on the way to the emergency room for the Lord to fix whatever was broken in his heart, and the Lord did not heal him.

I know what is true about this God who said no to our prayers. The truth of the Bible is stored up in my head, and my mind can trace the memories of God’s promises and character with ease. God is loving and good and compassionate. I say it over and over to myself, but the truth stays on the surface level of my mind without ever traveling the long way down into my heart and soul and bones. I know God is loving, but I do not believe that he has acted lovingly toward me. I know that God is good, but I cannot reconcile his goodness with what has happened in my life. I know that God is compassionate, but what he has allowed to happen does not feel compassionate to me.

These are difficult things to reconcile, and so I avoid them. My doubt feels shameful and wrong - how dare I doubt the character of God? And yet, is it truly doubt if I still know and trust what is true without believing it in my bones? The psalmist writes in Psalm 77,

“At night I remember my music;
I meditate in my heart, and my spirit ponders.
“Will the Lord reject forever
and never again show favor?
Has his faithful love ceased forever?
Is his promise at an end for all generations?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” Selah” (vv 6-9)

The psalmist’s questions feel almost too personal to read, like I am eavesdropping on a conversation to which I was not invited. They are honest, painfully so, and when I read them I feel my chest opening up and my lungs filling with oxygen again. These are questions I am allowed to ask the Father without fear of his judgment or silence. These questions are an invitation to communion with God in a way in which it is not wrong to look at what has happened in my life and wonder how to reconcile the pain with what I know to be true of his character.

When I continue reading, the psalmist ends by reminding himself of the things he knows to be true of the Lord. He does not hurl questions and then sit in anger, refusing to acknowledge the ways in which the Lord has been good in the past. He remembers and he does so actively by reminding himself of the Lord’s faithfulness.

“I will remember the Lord’s works;
yes, I will remember your ancient wonders.
I will reflect on all you have done
and meditate on your actions.” (vv 11-12)

My God is loving and good and compassionate. These are things that I know, both from the experiences in my own life and the stories recorded in Scripture, and these are the things I will preach to my heart until I can believe them again. Claire Gibson writes in response to this psalm, “This is the rhythm of faith. Yell out, and then remember.” And so I will.

Richman_Wedding-100 (2).jpg

A Redemption of Grief

Originally published by Fathom Magazine

I used to call myself a morning person. The feeling of peeling back the covers in the early hours and stepping into a new day thrilled me. 

I’m not sure what I am now, but I’m often awake in the middle of the night—my body either unable or unwilling to sleep through a full night. When I wake, the morning feels harsh, like a bright fluorescent light shining into my eyes. Pain washes over me before my feet have even touched the ground, and grief waits for me in the corner, an unwelcome and intrusive guest who will long overstay his welcome.

When I open my Bible to read, grief stands in front of me. I try to focus on the words, try to take in the passage, but I am distracted. The letters pool on the page.

In my morning fog, I put the water on to boil and look out at the trees in our backyard. A dogwood blooms pink and white amidst the grays and browns of early spring. This specific tree had a number of branches grafted into it so that it flowered the colorful blend every spring. When I see it, I think of my family—a family grafted together with my aunt and uncle’s family. Growing up, my cousins were more like siblings, and their house was as much a home to me as my own. My life grew out of the trunk of both my family and theirs.

In December 2016, my aunt was diagnosed with cancer. Less than a year later, in 2017, we buried her body. It was a few days before Christmas. But the cancer had taken over almost every organ. Grief became a regular visitor in each of our lives. 

My uncle, having just celebrated his twenty-fourth anniversary less than a week before my aunt died, slept in an empty bed for two and a half months. He talked about her, about how he couldn’t sleep, about how much he missed her.

Then, less than three months after my aunt’s death, my mom texted me something about chest pains and come quickly and where is your cousin Emily? When we arrived at the hospital, my uncle was already gone. “A heart attack,” the doctor said, “We did everything we could but weren’t able to save him.”

As the water on the stove boils, these are the memories that flood my mind. I look out at the tree in my yard, its colorful pink and white blossoms defying the lingering winter, and I wonder if my family’s tree will ever stand tall again or if we have been hacked away and left to rot. 

Continue Reading...

IMG_7307.jpg