This season has been one of heartache and hardship and humbling growth. I don’t think I have ever felt so deeply as I have since this fall began, and with it came an underlying feeling of guilt. Guilt that stems from a culture that tells me it’s not okay to feel.
Last week, on a particularly rough day, I walked into a UPS store to ship a package. The employee asked me the typical, automated question that we ask one another eighty-seven times per day: “How are you?” Thirty minutes earlier someone else asked me the same question, to which I gave the expected response, “Good, how are you?” My answer invoked immediate reflection and I resolved not to reply “good” if I was, in fact, NOT doing well. So, when the man at UPS asked how I was doing, I responded, “I’m okay, thanks.” That was all. I was not seeking anything except for a tidbit more real in my life. “Why just okay?” he asked. I looked at him and realized that he was not a native of my own culture which taught me that you must respond “good” to that blasted question, and that he genuinely wanted to know how I was doing. I hesitated before starting, “Well……..we just had to terminate the contract on the house we were buying, and we had put so much money into the process that we don’t have enough money to start again on another house.” (People, this happened last week, and by the grace of God, we are once again under contract on the same house. Hallelujah.) Rather than scoffing at me for telling him my baggage, the UPS man told me his story of a similar (but much worse) situation and then he encouraged me, making sure I knew that it would all work out. All I wanted to do was spend 1.5 minutes shipping my package, but instead I spent 15 minutes shipping my package and receiving encouragement from a complete stranger, who wouldn’t let me get away with my “I’m okay, thanks” answer. I left feeling refreshed and comforted.
I have been wondering why we expect ourselves and one another to live without feeling. Friends, I felt guilty for grieving the death of my friend and her son for longer than a week. Why? Because my culture tells me to move on. When two, three, four weeks passed and I was still grieving, I realized that it was necessary and healing and I just needed to FEEL. When I was being swallowed by insecurity and cloudy faith, I felt guilty for telling my friends I was struggling. Why? Because I perceived myself as a burden (friends, note the self-perception..none of you made me feel like a burden). Why don’t we embrace one another through our ups and downs, and “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep? (Romans 12:15).”
Though I seem to be on the horizon of this desert season, I don’t want to forget it. I want to remember what it felt like so that I can empathize with others when they are in the midst of their own desert seasons. I want to remember what it felt like to soak up beauty from all of creation to keep me going, and actually revel in the blessings around me. That’s what all of these photos are. Just little snapshots of beauty that I absorbed during my walk through the desert. Lastly, at a writing group a month ago, I wrote a paragraph during a writing “sprint” that summed up my season and let me express what it means to feel. I included it in italics below this cute deer who kept walking closer to me, rather than bouncing away. Beauty.
Salty fat tears welled in my eyes. Not again, I pleaded to my silent God. I am full of tears these last few weeks; they unlace privately, but unleash publicly, telling all the world of my sorrows. My cries have stained the sky pinker, but God waits. “There is beauty in this,” He whispers on the dew like jewels, sparkling as I run through the mist. “I want more beauty and less tears,” I cry, raucous whispers to my determined, loving, unchanging God. “There is beauty in this,” He repeats as the flower up ahead blows pale petals away. Away with the tears. But the beauty stays. Memories are sweet and stark on the stalks of life that torment my aching for beauty. I grasp the things of my life, willing them to stay. My expectations are cupped in my hands and I cling to them as He gently pries them away, calling me the opposite way.
If you are in the midst of your desert season, go for a walk and absorb a little beauty today. And then tell someone that you’re “just okay” and allow yourself to feel.