That day, when I arrived at the pool at about 1 pm, Karen texted asking how my day had been. By then I had been a part of three meetings, and a casual conversation, in addition to phone interactions.
I responded: “I’m battling with dark clouds although the day is beautiful outside. I’m feeling incredibly discouraged. I want to cry, but haven’t had emotions. I’m going swimming now, have a chiropractor appointment at 3.”
I thought for certain I would be able to just swim the emotion out in the water. It was a magical day at the pool, too. My favorite kind, usually. I was alone in the 25 meter pool. I love swimming in smooth water that I get to break into splashes and ripples. By the end of my swim, the weight of disappointment had not lifted, but physically I felt better.
That night, at home at our dinner table, Karen asked me if I’d like to share what had happened. As I recounted the first thing, the tears started. As they came, they surprised me. I did not know why that initial interaction had hurt so much, until I began to share it. I was not even clear the depth at which that sense of disappointment ran. As I shared, I began to cry more. Then I began to sob. Then the sobs came out in gut-wrenching howls through great gulps of air as I buckled over with the pain of a day that had left me undone. There had been no great tragedy, just pain.
Incredible to write this, for this type of emotion is totally new to me.
Karen sat there and received my story. She just opened up this space in the room for this pain to come out. She listened. She was present. She was there. She gently said, after I began to really sob, “Do you want to go sit on the couch?”
We had been at the dinner table. I couldn’t eat, anyway, nor would she while I was sharing. We moved. The stories I told connected to pain that had climbed on top of pain, so that the weight had become unbearable. It had been one of those “I just want to quit” days, even though I had only been home from Sabbatical about one month by that point.
I don’t remember previously feeling tears quite like those. They were not the tears of a person trying to live in an adult world from a child’s perspective. I’m familiar with those. They were not the tears of manipulation, trying to get someone to care for me. Yep, been there too, sorry to admit. They were adult tears. The tears of the battle to be and stay me, to remain upright in a world that desires to fit me into its mold. The tears of seeking to remain true to the changes and renewal that had come through sabbatical, while seeking to live out life in this work.
Once I had found the end of this abyss of pain, Karen was there, present and holding me. Nothing had changed in my situations, but as something had shifted within me, everything had changed. I still couldn’t eat, yet, but I had cleared out the pain. I felt like an empty shell for a moment as I just breathed deeply. She asked after all that sharing, if I wanted a response, or had I just wanted to share.
I said, “I’d love a response.”
Her simple observations switched on a light for me. They helped. But beyond those, she sat there seeing me with new eyes. Whatever the Camino had done to me was a good thing, those eyes said. I had become a different person.
That I had felt and communicated pain on the same day the events happened; that I had not allowed pain to ricochet into anger nor fear nor selfish pride nor blame; that I had felt and expressed just raw pain — all that was new.
It was interesting for the way in which I am wired is to push away pain, to push away emotions. Certainly, it is not to feel what I am feeling in the moment, but instead, to deflect it, deny it, ignore it. So, to actually feel pain the day of the events, that was new.
Later that evening, Jesus pressed this word into my heart:
“My Son. I am so proud of you. It takes courage to feel like you have. You have bravely told. You have opened the wound and gotten the puss out. You have a new heart now, Child. You’re a Child of grace and my dear Son. Hold to Me Son. This is a large journey you’re on. So very large. Hold to Me and let’s build what I have planned!”
That moment with Jesus, took me back to a drive I had taken while in Ireland. I was in a small village about 100 km south of where I was staying, and had stopped to pray at a parish church. There was this incredible crucifix of Jesus there. I had not noticed it, at first, for it was at the side of the sanctuary, and I was intent on praying. But as I knelt to pray, at one point, while looking up, I opened my eyes and found myself looking directly into the eyes of Christ on the cross. (This is the opening picture in this post).
However, I was not just looking at a statue, at that moment, but, rather, I was looking directly into the Living Lord’s eyes. Jesus was present. He looked at me and spoke into my spirit, loved me, through the crucifix. Tears flowed down the cheeks of the Savior who loved me. Tears sprang to my eyes as well, tears of joy, thankfulness, welcome. What a gift to have such a God able to speak into my heart and world. He had done the same this night I described with Karen.
That night as I shared with Karen and she opened up space for me to do so, without judgment, or impatience, or agenda; it was an honoring of me. She was caring for my heart and spirit, so that God’s work in me could be accomplished. In the past I would have been a puddle of need, asking for her to step up and fix my life. But not anymore. There was nothing of that manipulative posturing. There was simply a space created for the sharing of deep pain, and the grace given in her presence for healing.
It reminded me of one of our decisions coming back from our journey in Ireland. After seeing Cairns everywhere in our travels there, Karen had observed how each of those fragile, simple stone stacks, reminded her of each of us. In Ireland these stone piles are points of worship stacked by people as symbols of their own journeys and faith.
So, if we are each like a stack of stones, then, we need to remember in caring for one another, to take care to honor that fragility.
We had decided that in our relationships past, we had forgotten this. Sometimes we had spoken or acted in such a manner that the fragile stability of our partner was unsettled, knocked down for a time, or wounded. We had returned with a new sensitivity to remember we are but cairns, temporary, fragile, requiring special care.
That night Karen had shown me such care. As I had been knocked down by the day, her listening and presence had allowed me to be uprighted again.
This had not been a complicated action of hers. It had simply been by being available. She had not had to “fix” anything, but only had to listen. Her responses were helpful as well, but were given only after I told her I would like them. Her choice to listen and hear and be present had allowed me to be restored more whole than I had begun the day in the first place.
This morning as I was spending time opening up this life to Jesus, I stumbled upon this Ancient Aramaic Hymn that speaks to the action of God to make us whole:
You have united, O God, Your Divinity with our humanity.
And our humanity with Your Divinity.
Your life with our mortality,
and our mortality with Your life.
Your have assumed what is ours
and You have given us what is Yours.
All for the Life and salvation of our souls.
To You, O Lord, be glory forever.
While knowing of and preaching about this great exchange for years, I think that now I am beginning to take it in, and live it. It is not a matter of the head, but the heart. It is the willingness of One who walks with, ministers through, speaks into this life and assists me to be present to be in the lives of others.
As I assisted one friend in being present to the God she said had failed her and not been there for her, I encouraged her to simply be still, picture Jesus and ask what he would speak to her. She sat there for a moment and then looked up and asked,
“Do you know the country song, ‘I’m Already There’?”
“Can’t say that I do,” I said. “Is that what you heard? What did you hear Jesus say to you?”
She quoted from the chorus:
“I’m already there
Take a look around
I’m the sunshine in your hair
I’m the shadow on the ground…”
“So you have heard Jesus speak to you, and how creative to use this song you knew!” I exclaimed.
Later in our conversation she said, “You know, sometimes I am looking for God to show up in a certain way, but perhaps now I know, He’s everywhere. I can even notice him in the shadow on the ground. He’s already there.” I thought this was the perfect season for that insight.
As Jesus met me, as Karen uprighted me by listening, as we are all fragile, and precious, so God met this friend, telling her as He had said to me, He’s there already.