Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Psalm 30:5, NLT
I cried myself to sleep last night. Sitting in bed at the end of the day with journal in hand and tea on the nightstand, I began writing.
Where to begin I don’t even know.
Words poured honestly and incoherently from my pen. No editing, no polishing, letters on the page strung together finding their place. I ended with a final question.
What do I need to just grieve?
Tears flowed from somewhere deep inside. From the heart of a much-younger me, cries of loneliness and pain began to escape, first silent, then sniffles, then sobs. I could not be comforted, as much as my dear husband tried. I just needed to cry.
Sleep finally came and with it the dreams. Tornadoes, crowds, a pack of dogs that all looked like Dewey, these were the themes. My overloaded brain downloaded and sorted and shuffled. I woke puffy and groggy and rested.
Coffee left by dear husband in my Seattle School mug replaced the empty tea cup on the nightstand, reminding me of where I was not. It also reminded me of a journaled prayer from earlier in the week,
God, You are faithfully loving me through the work you have given me in this season even as you faithfully love my friends through theirs. As the new group of externs comes together, help me to be content that I am here in H’burg and not boarding a plane to Seattle. Help me to be fully present with my family. I don’t know what you are doing, but I am trusting the work to be so good and kind that you can make a way for me there in my absence.
Shortly after waking, I saw my writing on theRed Tent Living blog. Overwhelmed with joy I linked it to my blog wall with the comment I’m not in Seattle or Austin this morning, but I AM in the Red Tent today. Such kindness for my heart. Stop by for a read. Happy Friday, Friends!!!!
It is a happy Friday. I am thankful for new mornings, new mercies, and for joy that follows the tears.
Rain pours from the sky like the tears from my eyes. I cannot seem to stop crying. I know I just need to feel what is there without judgment, but it is difficult.
I want to distract myself so badly with something, anything. This only leaves me pacing and feeling restless. There is too much connection too easily available when what I really need to do is connect with myself.
What I feel is the pain of grief. Deep in my heart there is an ache that begins to grow until the only thing it can do is burst out in an ugly cry.
I am not good at crying. I hold it in.
I have so much held inside that needs to be named, released, and wept over. It pours out at the most inconvenient times, like during a walk while talking on the phone with a friend. Her presence on the other end is a gift. I thought I would be leaving a message when she unexpectedly answered the call.
Exchanging pleasantries and the short version of what is going on in our worlds, I open up about hard feelings I am having in this season. She understands and is familiar with my story. She asks good questions. I begin to feel my heart again as my chest tightens and eyes fill with tears.
Where did you go?
This question comes as I grow quiet in the wake of conversation. I want her to commiserate with me in my sadness, not share with me her eager anticipation of something I will miss. She tells me of an upcoming trip where she will spend time with mutual friends. She lists off names.
Wait, you’re the only one who won’t be there. Maybe I shouldn’t have told you that.
I feel a laugh/cry inside. Seriously??!!! I want her to tell me. I want to know and celebrate her excitement even as I grieve what I will miss. I need to feel all of the feelings, even the hard ones.
I’m glad you told me. It’s just hard not to be able to be there, even though I already knew this wasn’t my season. It feels even moreso as the time grows closer.
Our time is up, and I return home. My daughters are doing after-school screens as I disappear into my room and then into my bathroom, shutting both doors. Collapsing in my inner sanctum, tears escape is deep sobs.
A knock on the bathroom door calls me back.
Mom, are you okay?
My youngest stops screen time to check on me.
Yes. I am just really sad right now.
Okay! Just checking!
She returns to Animal Jam, and I return to grief, letting the tears fall until they finish.
The post is first in my Facebook feed when I wake this morning. Shared by a family friend is an obituary for a young woman I met and knew briefly as Cassie when she was a girl and teenager. Our families crossed paths when I was a young mom with small children of my own, her mother a season ahead of me.
I am better acquainted with her oldest sister who taught with me at the school back in the day and her oldest brother who was a friend to my youngest brother. Even then, I was so wrapped up in my own newly-minted adult life that I was not engaged with them on a relational level.
Still. there are people whose lives touch yours who feel like family because of the seasons you have shared or the events you have experienced together. This young woman was born into a family that crossed paths with mine during the 90’s and early 00’s. We attended weddings, church services, picnics, and celebrations together. I remember her and her younger sister as the ages of two of my girls now, teen and tween.
It brought great sadness and deep grief to read of her recent death. I learned of her life in her obituary and of her death on the Facebook page set up for medical updates. I am trying to process the depth of loss it is to lose a beloved daughter, sister, wife, and friend so tragically and so young.
It does not make sense to have one with so much life taken this way. Her adult woman eyes looking into the camera show me her mother, her sister, the women I knew. My heart aches for them. I cannot imagine losing my third child, losing a sister. I do not have adequate words for the grief.
Today they will celebrate her life, grieve her death, bury her in the ground. I will be here tending my family as I was during the season when I knew hers. I will grieve from a distance. I will feel vicariously what it would be to lose a dearly loved one unexpectedly in their prime.
To the George family who I know, and all who loved Cassie that I do not know, I am so sorry for the loss of the one you loved so deeply and who loved you so well. It shows in her smile, in the pictures, in the words. May you find great comfort during this difficult day and in the ones that follow.
For those interested, a Go Fund Me is set up here.
Saturday, May 19, is the Hats and Horses Fundraiser out at Cross Keys Equine Therapy. There is still space for you and a friend or several to attend this Preakness-themed event. If you are a last-minute person who waits to see what’s available, wait no longer and hop over here to order your tickets.
Come to think of it, I had better ask Steve if we have ordered ours!
We have attended this event for several years. Once I won the 50/50 raffle which paid for the babysitter hired to tend our houseful of children. Another time, I won a silent auction painting donated by my favorite local artist. Rumor has it she is offering something again this year!
It is always fun to see who attends and to mingle with friends, old and new. There are hats to decorate and silent auction items to browse. There is live music and a cash bar. The bar tender is always handsome and funny. The BBQ is delicious and desserts tempting.
Most important is the money raised to sustain the work of Cross Keys Equine Therapy. Attending this event is a fun way to offer the financial support that is so needed.
You may wonder what happens out at the farm. How do horses help with therapy?
I am glad you asked, because I had an experience at the farm back in January that I would love to share with you.
When engaging with the horse, first get permission. Wait for the horse to come to you and reach out to touch you before touching it. Just like you wouldn’t walk up to a person and begin rubbing their arm, don’t walk up and start petting the horse.
Alicia addresses board members sitting around a table preparing to exit to the fields for an experience with the horses. We are to take some time visioning the work of Cross Keys and think about how we fit into that vision. I take up my spiral-bound journal and walk outside. Our first assignment is to sit and be still.
Walking towards the field with no horses in it, I am redirected kindly to another. I nervously laugh and try not to ascribe deep significance to my faux-pas. It is difficult for me to make a decision and stick with it; to not have someone assign me a place. I carry my pop-up chair to a field with three horses in the distance and sit.
The horses are black, brown, tan. They begin moving in my direction, then stop. Wind whips over me. I settle my heart, not wanting to be rushed in the space. I find it interesting that I am in a field with three horses. What is God doing? I am not a horse person.
My vision keeps tipping to trauma. That theme runs through my story and connects my people. In a month I will commence part 2 of a certificate in story-informed trauma work. I see Cross Keys as a place for healing and hope, recovery of self, a place to engage with what has brought trauma.
Where do I fit? What do I bring?
As I ponder these questions, two horses move closer. They come to me, first the brown then the black. The tan will meet up with me later. I do not yet know this. I feel tears as these powerful animals approach me and nudge me with their noses. In their presence I feel small as I am called to rejoin the others down in the arena.
We gather at the Hope Arena for instructions on part 2. This time some of us will volunteer to enter the ring with the honey-colored horse to experience what the work is like. A therapist and equine specialist facilitate this experience.
I watch the first volunteer engage the horse and do some work. The work is to make a connection with the horse, not to mount it or ride it or do something like that. Just connect. This volunteer courageously engages the experience, following the therapist’s and specialist’s lead. Upon exiting, another volunteer is invited to step in. There is a pregnant pause.
I feel the feeling. You know the one. It’s the standing on the edge of the high dive or the top of the boat house and wanting desperately to both step off and step back. I stepped up and into the ring, terrified. Ambivalence gripped me as I battled desire for more and fear of engagement.
Being so close to a large, powerful animal in the presence of my peers and a therapist and horse specialist was intense. My default is performance, and I wanted to do all of the things right. I wanted to make a connection with the horse which meant she had to move towards me. Because I didn’t check to see, but instinctively I felt her a she.
I began to name what I felt, which was fear. I felt afraid to step in and move closer, but this beautiful creature was inviting me in with her deep brown eyes and golden mane tossed to one side. I decided to trust and engage as myself which meant to walk alongside of her. She drew me in from the edge of the rail where I was lingering and walked with me further into the arena.
I talked with her in this process, naming that it was difficult for me to commit to moving deeper into a space, even here as I ponder where my fit is at the farm. She gently walked with me, leading me to a red pop-up chair further in the arena. Stopping in front of the chair, she tapped her nose down on its seat and stepped aside.
I could have analyzed and excused and come up with all of the reasons why what I felt in my gut was impossible, but instead I chose to stay with the feeling of invitation to sit and be. I sat down. The horse stood beside me. All was still. A cat jumped into my lap.
The ridiculousness of that final touch broke the spell, and laughter ensued from both me and my husband before spreading to the others. Anyone who knows me knows that I am NOT the type of person who has cats randomly jump into their lap, nor do I invite that from cats. This was clearly a moment.
During the debrief with therapist and horse specialist, I named what was stirring inside. Issues of trust, fear, commitment, place, and rest all were current and all were showing up in the presence of the horse. Her engagement with me was completely different than with those who went before and after. It was unique to my need.
I experienced the beauty of equine-assisted therapy, if only briefly. It is the ability of the horse to sense and bring to the present space what is stirring in the client’s world. It is a therapist helping to name what is happening with the client and a horse specialist naming the horse’s role in the process.
It is beautiful and healing. When I wonder how it would feel to move in from the edge of a space and take my place in the room, I remember walking alongside a horse as she moved me further in from the edge. I feel the invitation to sit and belong just as I am. And just in case I doubt, I feel that cat on my lap and the laughter in my heart and know that it is real.
Please consider joining me THIS Saturday out at the farm. I would love to catch up and dream and imagine more with you. Tickets are here.
Shortly after the experience, the girl who is not a horse girl found a picture of herself as a girl wearing her favorite shirt. She feels this when she looks at the picture. That was my favorite shirt! You can see joy in all of the eyes.
I am going to be curious about that girl. Maybe she is a horse girl, after all!
It’s after 10:00 on Saturday night, and I’m picking up American Girl dolls and accessories from an elaborate set up in the TV room. They have been there for over a week.
I remember the intricacy involved and time it takes to set up and orchestrate proper play, and I want my youngest to have that freedom for as long as possible. As a result, we have all been navigating over and around tiny dishes and clothing and furniture and dolls, so many dolls. It is time to clean them up.
There are bins to contain everything, but Little Mae is clearly avoiding the task.
I warn her that if she doesn’t pick up, then I will do it for her.
Ok, Fine! She calls over her shoulder as she runs upstairs to play in her room with a sister before bed.
This is how I find myself here, and I do not even take a picture, though the thought crossed my mind. What if this is the last time?
It really could be now, unlike times before when there was always another sister or sibling next in line.
I allow myself to hold the memory of the scene in my heart as I sit in the midst of the play circle, paralyzed. I am transported back to my young self who desired to keep her world ordered, a seemingly impossible task with six younger siblings coming behind and messing things up.
I understand now Little Mae’s avoidance. It is overwhelming. In my overwhelm, I release perfectionism and just place things where they fit. Like with like, mostly. There is fun in unpacking surprises when the bins are brought back out.
Whenever that may be.
My husband works on his own late-night project in the kitchen, just off of the room where I sit. I gain momentum and snap tops on full bins, stacking them, preparing to move them back out to the kitchen set.
Music plays from the speaker in the kitchen. . . Changes . . .and the tears well in my eyes. My heart already feels fragile, and now I am packing and stacking and storing away toys that are nearing their expiration date.
Doubt creeps in and over and around my heart as I question my choice to allow the girls to spend so much birthday and Christmas money over the years on dolls and tiny dresses and miniature shoes and furniture.
I remember and question my own rush of anticipation, stalking Cyber Monday deals and trolling secondhand shops for unique tiny things.
I find a paper rolled and taped into a tiny cone shape with pompoms glued on it for cotton candy and ice cream sandwiches cut from craft foam and the tiny empty plastic bottles that held beads from a recent craft kit and smile.
There were only two visits I was able to make before the holidays. Mondays in Bridgewater afforded me time to stop by after a weekly meeting with friends. I planned to return this week. Back to our regularly scheduled program already in progress.
I was not prepared for the news.
It is easy to check mail on my phone, so when a ministry team message came through with only his name in the heading, I opened it instantly. Sometimes things can be too instant, leaving a person raw in the wake of the suddenness.
I thought I knew what it would say.
There would be a health update, maybe a way to serve the family. There might be specifics of how the disease was progressing or a general update to keep us informed as to how to pray for the man who continued to pray for us from the confines of his automated recliner.
My breath caught in my chest as I read that my dear friend’s breath had left him in the night as he slept.
Gone was the man who sat across from me for so many Stephen Ministry meetings, his faithfulness and genuine care and concern for people radiating from his face. He held many of my prayer requests close and would ask how God was working in my life, right up until our last visit together.
A fun fact is that he had attended the church my husband grew up in when they both lived in Northern Virginia. He remembered my husband as a boy and would laugh and tell stories of him. We had a connection.
Above all he loved the Lord and wanted to serve him in all that he did. Our last visit together was full of stories of days gone by, such as being roped in invited to help with the Awana program at his church when he was a younger man and how he cared for the kids who were difficult, understanding that they were the ones who needed love the most.
There were many times that he went out of his way to be present or show up for people. He sought out the hurting and humbly reached out with a kind word or thought.
He encouraged me with his words and his steadfast faith in God. He encouraged me by attending worship whenever he could, right up until his final weeks when it became difficult. I remember the last Sunday that I saw him from stage, sitting in his chair in the back. My heart caught in my chest and my eyes welled up, much as they did when I read that he died.
Bob is in heaven now. I don’t know how it works, but I am confident that he is present with the Lord. This song comes to mind as I sit with my tears remembering my friend. I think it captures his heart.
It sounds dramatic. The final day of 2017! Here we are. Here I am.
The 2018 word post is in progress, meaning, I should probably get that thing written. The thoughts in my head sound more eloquent than those coming out through the keys beneath my fingers. I escape into cyberspace and Facebook, reminding me of why it’s a good idea that I am breaking from it in the new year.
I have done so in the past and wrote about it here.
I have processed the feeling of being unfriended here.
I most recently pondered the idea of remaining connected here.
The final morning of 2017 found me in and out of the service at church, feeling big feelings and facing hard realities. There were tears of this kind. There was a trip to the ladies’ room to fallback and regroup. As I looked in the mirror while washing my hands, the eyes of an inquisitive little face topped with a head of red curls met mine.
She smiled tentatively. I smiled back through the sad while wiping mascara streaks from my cheeks and commenting on the dilemma of wearing makeup while crying. We connected for a sweet moment.
I want to cling to the sweetness of innocence and the hope of new beginnings even in the midst of what feels so hard. It is easy to default to anger and let that be what spills out when it is the grief that beckons.
So this final day, these final hours bring a mixture of both grief and joy, laughter and tears, hope and sorrow. I look forward to celebrating tonight with family and watching the performers in my crew do their things, and at the end of the night raising a glass to toast all that is and that was and all that is to come.
The first weekend of November found me at a lake house with my friend Angela for what has become a fall ritual ~ Introvert’s Weekend Away.
It is a great space, wherever we land, of reading, writing, thinking, processing, and just being. Sometimes we talk. Sometimes we are quiet. We do things together, mostly taking walks and eating meals. We do things apart, like all of the other stuff.
My space at the table looked like this for most of the weekend.
It was lovely to be able to leave works in progress and come back to them.
Last year I was working on work for module 2 of the certificate program and had a strict agenda of reading and writing to complete. This year it was fun to just play with and in the space.
The misty day could not keep me from swinging to the music in my ear buds, soaring high into the air. Little did I know I was creating a safe space for my soul. There was solitude and beauty and much-needed calm before the storm that was brewing.
It was one word written in green marker on a piece of paper in tidy handwriting.
The paper, crumpled and left on the middle of the table was answer enough. Clearly no.
Bedtime had arrived. Time to put the game and tea cups and ice cream dishes away and head upstairs for teeth brushing and cuddle. The younger first, then the older. Hence, the note.
If the younger leveraged her cards right, she would get some coveted Lego time with the older. Things were not looking hopeful, according to the crumpled paper I cleared from the table.
I gathered it up, released my need to save it for posterity, and carried it to my bathroom to throw it in the trash can. That is when the tears, then sobs, began. I collapsed onto the toilet seat and cried.
They come easily, lately, the tears, at all the wrong times.
These were for approaching endings. For this particular ending that felt so close. The ending of Legos.
Three years ago another older sister bought a large Lego set for her birthday. It now sits in a bin in the basement. I know it won’t be long before this older sister will lose interest, if she has not already.
Time is short. It is so long.
I weep for final endings. There was always another on the horizon. I weep for missed opportunities. I weep for a little girl inside who does not know why she is crying but cannot seem to stop.
I need to go upstairs to read, but the piano calls me to sit and calm my heart. I begin to play.
Footsteps run down the stairs, and before I can begin to lecture, words fly from an excited little sister’s mouth.
We’re going to play Legos for cuddle!
Feet run up the steps and a bedroom door slams shut. I hear laughter and excited voices behind it.
Playing Legos for cuddle means a few minutes for me to write instead of read, though somehow I think an older sister will finagle a few pages of the Hobbit from me anyway, and I will concede because of Legos and the gift of a little more time.
I am blessed with the gift of built-in best friends. Many moons ago, my fourth little friend was brought home from the hospital. That gave me two younger sisters and two younger brothers by the time I was eight years old.
When Alex began to talk, he called me teacher. That is the family folk-lore. I am not surprised, because I played school with all of my siblings and stuffed animals. I probably roped him in as a nursery student before he could talk. By the time he was four or five, I had him well-trained, as seen in these photos from a school picture day photo shoot I did with my class one summer.
I did individual photos, hands properly crossed over a book, most likely a Bible for that extra spiritual touch.
I took a class picture, as well.
Clearly I was inspired by the real school picture of this little preschooler.
Fast forward a few decades and lots of stories to this summer when Alex brought his entire family from Bolivia to the States. We were on the same continent for three months, though not all of that time was spent in the same location.
It was so fun to catch up and connect. It felt like always. Just really good. Like this good.
There is so much love on our faces. So much contentment in this captured moment. Shalom.
Alex was ten when I left for college. One of my favorite letters from that season reads
Dear Julie, I love you. I miss you. We are still brother and sister. Love, Alex
We are still brother and sister.
This summer we took a trip with our mom and teenage girls to visit family in Ohio and Michigan. It was such a sweet time of laughter and conversation. And after this goodbye picture was snapped, I climbed into my car and sobbed down the driveway as I drove from Ohio back home to Virginia.
Happy Birthday, Alex! I love and miss you so much! I am thankful for your life. I am thankful that we are brother and sister.