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.

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This Psalm is a Sword

This past week I started reading a memoir about a theologian’s life and journey in faith. Early on in the book, the author tells the story about the last night he saw his son before his son committed suicide. Before his son left for an evening with his girlfriend, he had said “Goodbye,” instead of his usual “Goodnight.” The author explains in that moment, he remembered the story of Abraham Lincoln telling his bodyguard “Goodbye” on the evening before his assassination. He writes of wondering in that moment, “Why did I say “good-bye” to Scott instead of “good night”? The foreboding didn’t make sense.” The next morning he found his son dead in his bedroom.

This past weekend my husband and I had the honor of celebrating the marriage of our dear friends as best man and bridesmaid. The evening before the wedding, I was worn out, mildly sleep-deprived, and we still had so much to do. My husband and I decided he would go to the venue and help finish decorating with the others, and I would stay home to finish gluing popsicle sticks to the wedding programs.

Before he left, he said, “Let me give you one last kiss,” and kissed me. In that moment, like the author’s flitting memory of Abraham Lincoln, I remembered the story in the memoir and watched my husband walk out to the car sure that this was the foreboding moment I would remember for the rest of my life. I was sure he would drive away and die in a car accident or have a brain aneurysm or a ladder would fall on him in just the wrong way.

The fear that this was the last conversation I would share with my husband overwhelmed me and I ran out to the car and told him I was coming with him. I blurted out something about wanting to help and how a bridesmaid should be with the bride and how I could always stay up to glue the programs when we got back home. I didn’t tell him about the fear, the nauseating feeling I had that something terrible would happen.

These days I find myself thinking about death more than I’d like to admit. The thoughts sneak into my mind like a skilled thief, stealing joy and replacing it with fear in one fluid motion. I find myself swirling through the same self-defeating cycle of fearing the future and then doing whatever I can to try to gain some semblance of control. I hear my husband say “Let me give you one last kiss” and I climb into the car next to him because I am afraid he will die if I don’t. I hold everything so tightly my knuckles bleed and I call it protection.

Later, when the fear has subsided and I am able to process my thoughts and actions, I know, deeply know, that I cannot control what happens to the people I love. I cannot protect my husband, my parents, my brothers, my cousins, my friends. No amount of being with them whenever I feel afraid will keep them from death. In these moments, rather than the outspoken megaphone of panic, the quiet voice of helplessness creeps in. I become overwhelmed with the realization that I cannot protect the people I love. Helplessness seems to keep company with me until the next wave of panic hits and the cycle repeats itself again and again and again.

I had nearly resolved to this way of living - panic and fear, helplessness and overwhelm - until I listened to a friend read Psalm 23. Whenever I hear a passage of scripture like Psalm 23, it is easy for me to slip into the familiarity of it, anticipating the next words rather than listening to them. This time, for whatever reason, the passage sounded new as if I had never heard the truth of it so clearly before. It became louder than my fear and my helplessness. The words sounded good and sweet and true, and I rested in them.

In that moment, listening to my friend read the familiar psalm, rest and peace was an easy gift. It is not always so easy, friend. I would be lying if I told you that Psalm 23 calmed all my fears and feelings of helplessness and I haven’t faced a single struggle since then. The truth is that listening to Psalm 23 was like being handed a sword, a generous gift of truth when I needed it, but heavy and awkward in my hands when I learned I had to use it.

With truth in my hands, I do not fear my fear. I do not feel helpless against my helplessness. But I still have to do the hard work of telling myself the truth when it feels so much easier to listen to liars. The liars of fear and helplessness tell me I can only depend on myself to protect the people I love, that God does not care about the deaths of my family members, that He will let the people I love die to teach me a lesson because he is cruel and angry. The truth is that the Lord is good and a sure foundation, his faithful love pursues me, I will fear no evil, He comforts me, He is with me.

When fear and helplessness show up at my door, I look them in the eyes and I tell them what I know to be true even as I am learning to believe it myself. I am ready for them, sword in hand. “The Lord is my shepherd; I have what I need.”

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