This was a message I got to share to the students in the WinShape College Program at Berry College in Rome, GA where I am on college ministry staff. Our focus this year has been on “A Word Centered Life”. Here is my story on struggling to have one for the past year.
My guest blogger today is my very own big brother.
Michael is 6 years older than me and over 6 feet tall. He has always been the big and strong brother, but in the past year has been brave in whole new ways. I remember the very first night we were in the hospital together. Michael and I got locked out getting something from the car and had to take a long way around to get back to the small room our family would be sleeping in that night. Michael told me he was feeling the pressure to be the strong one, to be less emotional and more fearless, despite the fact that he was just as scared as the rest of us. I was so proud of his openness and have only been overwhelmingly proud since of the courage he has taken to be angry, hurt, broken, and lost, because that’s the road grief walks you down. Michael got all of the creative genes in our family as you’ll see in his writing style.
Thankful for you.
“Learning to weep, learning to vigil, learning to wait for the dawn. Perhaps this is what it means to be human.” – Henri J. M. Nouwen
This summer – I was reeling from the loss of my father, but found myself having to still do my job. I had flown to California for our largest annual event and had been assigned to filming and conducting some really personal interviews.
In this process, and between interviews, I overheard a conversation begin with a gentleman I did not know, about how his mom had just been diagnosed with cancer. So early in the process that they had no action plan yet, no treatment arranged. Just the sudden weight of it.
By the time we actually introduced ourselves to each other, it was a hug and not a handshake. And we were both in tears.
He and I have kept in touch, often, since that day in the summer. Me to check on his mom and his family, and he to check on mine.
Thursday night, I found out his mom passed away.
I wept for a woman I had never met.
I wept for my friend and his family.
I walked to dinner with my head swirling, unable to be a part of the conversations around me.
And when I made it back to my bed I turned out the lights and typed this note on my phone.
How do you offer “hope” when you can be so certain it cannot yet be felt?
Perhaps “hope” in these moments, is that you don’t hurt alone.
And that maybe, hurting is such a deep part of being human.
Weep. Mourn. Wail.
Let no man question you for this.
Let no man doubt your marrow.
There is so much strength – in coming undone.
I was told grief is love’s receipt.
And I let it wash over me. Still do.
Wave after wave.
Left rooms to weep in solitude.
Restaurants. Bathrooms. Hallways. Pulled over and bottomed out. Head on my steering wheel.
Stood sobbing in the shower.
The friends that know that broken, will stand tall when you cannot.
Texts. Calls. Dinner. Silent moments sitting. Pain filling their eyes.
An overflow of their own.
These moments are pure.
Be carried and baptized in their wholeness.
And throw your rocks at the moon.
Every question and hurt and pain and doubt and fear hurled into the night sky.
Core to extremity.
Til you collapse exhausted on a tear dotted pillow.
And wake up only to find the first fleeting moments of the day, where you actually have to remind yourself how much you have lost.
And how much you hurt.
And you sink back into your mattress…
To weep. Mourn. Wail. Freely. Openly.
-Michael James Dalton
I’m getting a little audacious to make this an annual thing, but maybe that’s because that’s the title of the very first book I read this year.
(P.S. You can purchase the book by clicking the photo!)
1.) Audacious by Beth Moore
Read my review of Audacious here.
2.) I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
I am all about some girl power. And while many believe gender inequality has been provided to all, there are still so many girls who need to be empowered. Girls who have believed in themselves because one girl did, named Malala. Malala’s story is eye-opening, touching, and moving. Yes, I’m a little behind on this book trend, but I would give this book to any girl 10 and up for them to know what a privilege it is to be educated and what some girls go through just to learn.
3.) Steadfast Love by Lauren Chandler
Read my review of one of my favorite books I’ve read in a while here.
4.) Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey
Behind on the book trends again, I know. I grew up in a world where the word “feminism” was overwhelmingly hushed. I was a little fearful of finding this book to be an angry feminist ranting about the Church and faith I love, but I absolutely loved this book.
Sarah Bessey shares of story of growing up in a gender neutral world, then navigating moving to the States and being placed under societal norms of the roles of men and women in the Church. Read it and let me know what you think.
5.) The Sabbath by Abraham Heschel
This is anything but a light read. A Rabbi shares traditions and stories passed down within his family, along with principles within Jewish tradition that paint the picture of the deep value of the Sabbath.
6.) Looking for Lovely by Annie F. Downs
Read my review of Looking for Lovely here. Also, this summer I was invited by Annie to come attend a weekend in Nashville, TN walking through all of her important places from this book. Annie is forever throwing a party for Jesus and it was a joy to be a part of.
7.) A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis
This was the first and one of the only books I could read following losing my Dad suddenly. C. S. Lewis shares his very real and raw thoughts and wrestlings following having lost his wife to cancer. It put words to a lot of the depths I was feeling and if you have ever grieved anyone, read it.
8.) A Heart Like His by Beth Moore
This is a Beth Moore Bible Study on the life of David. I loved how she brought David’s life to light and made it so real and relatable. It can be done as a daily Bible Study as the chapters are around 4 or 5 chapters, but I got sucked in and just didn’t really want to sit it down as Beth made David feel like my best friend, she just made him so real. I’ve since bought it for multiple friends.
9.) Life Together in Christ by Ruth Haley Barton
I am a big Ruth Haley Barton fan. In this book, she highlights the value of Biblical Community using the story of Jesus’ appearances on the Emmaus Road. She wrote so many truths from this passage I hadn’t thought of before and made beautiful connections between this account in the gospels and the modern Christian life. This is a great resource on the value of other believers in the Christian life.
10.) Conversion & Discipleship by Bill Hull
This was required reading for a seminary class this fall, but I really loved it. Bill Hull explained so well that walking with believers does not end once they come to know Christ, but that is only the beginning, highlighting both parts of the Great Commission. Great read!
11.) Transformational Discipleship by Eric Geiger and Michael Kelley
This book was similarly a book for a seminary class, but I enjoyed its very practical principles of discipleship presented. The authors focused on how growth takes place in the life of a believer through various stories of individuals’ transformation. Also a good read!
12.) Teenage Girls by Ginny Olson
While we’re on the topic of seminary books, I absolutely loved this one. While it is a little dated, the modern psychological research included sets this book far above many I have read on ministering to teenage girls. It did a great job of discerning what ministers should encourage parents to reinforce in each stage and issue of teenage girls’ development and what is important for the minister to recognize. I would say this is a must read for anyone who works with teenage girls!
13.) Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
This book put words to transformation in my life I had just experienced or was currently undergoing. I immediately felt like I could better explain myself through beautiful metaphors and stories used in this book. I have continued to reference it since I’ve read it and bought it for multiple friends. This book is all about showing up even when you’re imperfect and I think we all need to do so much more of it.
14.) Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham
I listened to this book on Audible, which I would highly recommend. Lauren Graham shares her story of how she so deeply identified with the character of Lorelai Gilmore in my favorite TV Show Gilmore Girls. She watched every season and talked about what was going on in her life. She shared a little about Parenthood and the shared more about the Revival with interesting details and beautiful stories in between. Y’all these are my shows and I loved this.
15.) The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
I mean, just read this.
16.) Hidden Christmas by Tim Keller
This was a good read for this Christmas, as Tim Keller highlighted many of the not so romantic details about the story of the night in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. He beautifully wove a good deal of Old Testament anecdotes and details and did a great job of bringing the story to life while shedding a great deal of new light on typically overlooked pieces of the story.
So those are my reads from this year. Comment below with yours! Also, click FOLLOW in the left column for book reviews hot of the presses.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
There’s something about the Holiday season that makes us treasure home a little more. While the summer is filled with plans after plans to get as far away from home as possible or spend the most amount of time outside or at a friend’s house, the holidays bring us back. We decorate, adorn, nestle in, and find a cozy spot on the couch next to the tree. The holidays make us recognize what’s around us, sometimes reflecting on what’s changed in the year, sometimes being grateful for another year. It makes us see home as a place and a part of us, rather than just part of the mundane of life. It sheds a little light on why our ordinary is actually special.
This idea of home, especially around the holidays has changed for me a good deal in my lifetime. I grew up in one house I can barely remember until I turned 4 then we moved into what I consider my “childhood home”. It was an old house built in 1900 on a street in southern Virginia where trees that filled the median were each dedicated to local WWII heroes. There was even a cannon at the end of that road, Mount Vernon Avenue. Our house was brick, three bricks deep actually in each and every wall. It had blue shutters and lots of little quirks because of its age that were just normal to me like having a small kitchen attached to the kitchen called a “butler’s kitchen” and an extra cellar attached to the unfinished basement (note: this was where we stored our gallons and gallons of water to prepare for Y2K, but if you’re reading this, you probably don’t even know what that was.) The upstairs hallway of that house was so wide we called it “bowling ally” and we loved to run and slide down it in our socks. Occasionally, though, nails would come up out of the boards in the floor, yet at only 6 or 7 years old this didn’t phase me. It was normal for me to pick up the hammer we kept at the top of the stairs for this very reason and hammer that nail back down.
221 Mount Vernon Avenue in all of its quirkiness and grandeur was home. It was where parents of friends dropped me off and I never had to give them directions. All of our neighbors called it “the Dalton house” and it was. It was the porch where I took pictures before my first dance recital dressed as a bumble bee, it was the back yard where I learned how to play basketball, it was the driveway where my brother infamously made it onto America’s Funniest Home Videos, it was the back deck where my birthday parties were held, it was the laundry room where I learned how to do laundry. It was home. But then it wasn’t.
Then there were moving trucks and boxes. There was newness and change and so much to be done. That was November and Christmas came quickly. That Christmas just felt different and I knew all the ones to follow would be different. I didn’t live at home anymore. I didn’t really know what home was anymore. We transitioned from that house full of history to a brand new one and as I think about that was pretty symbolic of the move my family was taking. Both my mom and dad’s families had lived in that small town of Danville, Virginia for as long as anyone could remember. My parents and their parents and theirs had a deep history in that town, a name for themselves, deep deep roots, and we were beginning totally new. It was kind of earth shattering for my little 11 year old heart. That Christmas was the hardest.
I went up to Virginia a week early to spend time with friends to muster up the closest feeling of home I could find, but it just felt like it was gone. I remember deeply resonating with Cindy-Lou-who on How the Grinch Stole Christmas singing, “Where are you Christmas? Why can’t I find you? Why have you turned away? My world is changing. I’m rearranging. Does that mean Christmas changes too?”
Yes, Cindy-Lou-who. It does.
It felt like Christmas lost its magic and in a way it had. Because when you don’t have a sense of home, you don’t have a place to wake up excited for the magic of a special day. We were barely even sure which room to have our tree in. It didn’t feel right to not have my cousins who lived around the corner come over around lunch so we could all play with each other’s toys. If anything, Christmas just made it all the more real that the home I had always known would be gone.
But somehow things changed as they have a way of doing. And the new house in South Carolina became home. I missed having the comfort of being known and having grown up with people my whole life, but I began to feel at home. Somewhere between club volleyball tournaments, chorus performances at school, mission trips at church, and all the times in between, the friends I made here became home for me. The small group of girls I met with each Sunday night from 7th-12th grade on a couch where someone was always drinking coffee. Home. The school where I became friends on my first day with a girl who had cried and prayed for a best friend the night before. Home. The girls ministry associate at my church who I soon realized I had everything in common with and soon became my sister. Home.
But as things have a way of doing, it was time for change. So I found myself again moving south to a tiny little town called Rome, Georgia. The largest college campus tucked far up in the hills of Georgia had captivated my heart. There were building that looked like castles and I knew I would one day call it home. But that scared me. I knew what it was like for home to change. But once I was there touring on campus, my fears of college went away and I knew it was where I was supposed to be.
I quickly made friends on campus and loved my school but never imagined the way that little town could wrap its way around my heart. Rome doesn’t have too much to it and it’s often hard to find a place if you haven’t been there forever, but I love it so very deeply to the point I have to stop myself from reading the Newspaper in line at the local coffee shop when its my turn to order. In my first few years, I always imagined Rome to just be a transition. I knew it would always be special to me, but I never knew what it would become. Home.
I began working with girls at my Church and my advisor from Berry also went to my Church. I remember the first time I went to an event with other girls at that church. It felt like the first time I could stop being a student, stop trying to be cool, and just let my guard down. Though it was my very first time in that beautiful loft apartment downtown that once belonged to Mary Magoni I knew the feeling that met me there- home. And it hasn’t left.
Last week I hosted a baby shower full of ladies from that very church. I sat in my living room- the living room of a house I am able to rent because a couple from that church moved to Kenya to be missionaries that own that house and all of the ladies filled my home. Ladies whose daughters I had known while I worked in youth and would often see as I would sit by myself in church, but ladies in the past few months who have come to feel like family to me. The room was full of laughter and celebration that my friend Mary who first made me feel at home was about to welcome baby Claire into the world. There was food and coffee and games but I was just overwhelmed with that feeling. That familiarity. That fullness. That sense of home.
I’ve known since I was 11 that home isn’t a place. I think I got it when I learned that the “Church” wasn’t a building. And that feeling has met me in the oddest of places.
One in particular is in my favorite TV Show- Gilmore Girls. I remember the first time I ever watched an episode of Gilmore Girls. It was the episode when Lorelai is making Rory’s prom dress and the mannequin she is working on falls on top of her. It was one of the first times I found myself instantly lost in a show. I had seen 2 minutes of it, but I was instantly laughing out loud and deeply invested. This love continued on a daily basis. I would come home from school and work on homework while watching Full House, but at 5:00 I knew Gilmore Girls would come on. I started receiving the DVD sets for each Christmas and would watch all the episodes in order as I was falling asleep every night. I sometimes feel like I know Lorelai and Rory’s stories better than my own, as I would revisit them every day and spend any sick days or mental health days doing the same- watching Gilmore Girls. I remember when I first came to interview for the WinShape College Program at Berry and I walked into the room where I would stay for the night with a girl that would later become my small group leader. “You have Gilmore girls!” was maybe the fist thing I said. And I knew I could be at home with them.
This year, 8 years after the show’s last season, Gilmore Girls came back together to make 4 episodes. As the music played, the sights shown of Stars Hollow, Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel’s banter became audible, and cups of coffee were poured I began to cry because something about those seven seasons in Stars Hollow and the bond between Lorelai and Rory were that very thing for me- home. They had seen me through the transition from Virginia to South Carolina, from South Carolina to college, and through my life crumpling to pieces for the last year. That’s what home is. It’s constant. And in an ever changing world sometimes home takes on a very strange from- like a TV Show.
But this sense of home met me in an even stranger place. In a hospital waiting room on what I think was a Monday night. We were sitting in the Critical Cardiac Unit lobby and most of the other patient’s families had gone home or been transferred to the heart floor but we were still there and had been since the Wednesday before when my Dad had his heart attack. He had been unconscious all week and we had stayed closely by his side, praying for his every breath, pulse, rhythm, blood pressure, and whatever I could muster up the strength to understand and pray for. It was traumatic, exhausting, heart wrenching, and just made it feel like time had stopped. We had tried to take him off sedation and wake him up the day before, but it didn’t work. So on this day, we were doing brain scans to hear back essentially whether or not I had my Daddy anymore, if it was just a responding body on a ventilator with no brain activity or if it was a long road of recovery ahead if my Daddy’s brain was in tact. They had done the tests and we were waiting for a neurologist to come and tell us the results. This honestly should have been the hardest time of waiting in my whole life, but that feeling met me there again.
We sat in the lobby as the sun set outside the window, a window I hadn’t really noticed at all before that week. Someone had brought us dinner and we ate well. We had been so blessed that week. I watched as friends who are really family from our church and various other friends sat around with us in various pockets. I was with my friend Emily Wyatt and our friend Tonya Bryson. Our youth pastor was there. Andrew’s high school best friend was there. Countless people. People we didn’t have to be anything with but just loved us and the air was light. It just felt warm. My youth pastor took a video panning the rom because there was just something about it. I kept saying it felt like Sunday lunch after church with all of your family because that was really what it was like. It was a little piece of home.
If I have learned anything, it’s that home isn’t a place or a person and it’s not just one place or one person. It’s not a place where everything is right or magical or easy. It’s a feeling and a presence. It’s a warmth amidst the hardest days and a safe place amidst the scariest. A real home isn’t somewhere you post on Pinterest about how well it’s decorated. A real home is somewhere you are always met with undeserved warmth and love of being seen and known. A real home is a sense that you belong, you’re safe, and things will be just like this for a little while, amidst a world where our plans disappoint us and let us down. And that home becomes real for us, when we first allow ourselves to need it.
My pastor started his sermon this past Sunday reading a letter a friend of his wrote about having lost his Dad. He described that he had again come to know “the stench of death”.
The phrase sent me reeling as it sent me back into a hospital room praying hopeless prayers in between my own sweet Daddy’s spaced out breaths. I remember how I slept that night. The last night I would sleep in the same room as his breathing body. It was a deep and somehow somewhat healing sleep. There was a safety in his presence that I miss. I haven’t slept the same since.
I’ve come to know death and darkness this year.
Darkness is a weird thing. It’s scary and what you can’t see is scary, but once you’re in it, you feel comfortable. A type of comfortable where you just feel wholly welcomed. It’s not enticing in the slightest bit, but it’s easy to take refuge in its covering.
In Biblical times, when someone died the family would all sit in a dark house in silence and light one candle. Because that’s how it feels. Dark. Desolate. Empty. Silent.
Darkness doesn’t push you to see more, do more, be more, want more, or strive more. It just envelops you, yet never keeps you safe.
It’s a weird thing to me that we live in a world of both darkness and light. Half the world is experiencing light while the other half darkness, but we’re so used to this that we have found the very transitions of the rising and setting sun to be the most beautiful parts of the day.
It’s a hard thing for me to celebrate light coming into the darkness of the world as Christmas is just a little over a week away.
I don’t get it. I don’t get why this was Your plan. I don’t understand the hurt and waiting and the hopeless and the dark.
Generations after generations walked through darkness since the Garden- exile, oppression, silence, darkness. All of it.
And on the darkest of hopeless nights, following a painful birth in a nasty barn, you quietly whispered, “I am doing a new thing.”
You didn’t come and shine Your light so bright that all the darkness was diminished. No, the darkness lingered still. But you entered it. You entered it, familiarized yourself with it, and felt it.
I don’t know if I’ll ever understand the hard parts. The broken situations where You could have written the story differently but you didn’t. But it’s in the darkness of history from the garden to the stable that you were bringing about Christ.
I don’t get why you didn’t come more dramatically. Why you didn’t put a stark end to the broken and painful. But you came as small as You could.
Generations of writers wrote of the depths of despair of life apart from You and the need for You and you only came as a tiny little baby and somehow called that hope? God, we needed a hero. We still do.
I don’t think we can truly understand the joy, hope, and light of Christmas coming without knowing the darkness.
The most quoted passage in Isaiah that proclaims the birth of Christ to come begins in darkness,
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoiced before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
And I think in the same way that the darkness of history was bringing about Christ so the darkness we know is doing the same.
You could have come and stopped it all. But you didn’t. You came and entered and knew the darkness, even in ways I never will.
You defeated it, yet left us in it and I don’t really understand why. Especially this year. This year when darkness feels more safe and familiar than the light.
Instead, you came and gave us hope. Not a hope that meant we wouldn’t face darkness, but hope in its truest since. “An ache for what is to come” as Anne Voskamp would put it.
You came and showed us that the dark and hopeless that we know and feels safe is not all there is. The very darkness we often have chosen because it has felt more loyal is not the end of our story and it wasn’t the end of yours.
I still don’t completely know how to live in the both and of darkness and light. How to live in a world classified by two very opposite things is just hard to reconcile. But I’m aching and believing that is what You are doing.
You are bringing about light in the darkest and emptiest of nights. And we will long and wait for a light that not only tells us there is more, but it brings it.
Today, I opened Microsoft Excel to do a project and soon found myself weeping angry angry tears on my couch.
It’s just not right. It’s not right that my Dad isn’t on the other side to be able to call when I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to do. It’s funny how the small things seem to cut the deepest. You prepare yourself and build up your defenses for the big ones, but the small ones catch you off guard and cut deeply.
I missed being able to call you when I was moving into a new house. I missed you being here to get everything perfectly set up and organized. I missed you when I held a baby and rocked him to sleep and thought about what an incredible grandpa you would have been.
Gosh, I hate it.
I hate that there are no answers and only tears and anger and hurt and gaps.
Big giant gaps with your name written all over it that only you know how to fill with your easy going, steadfast, long-suffering presence. Your presence that carried a peacefulness that put everyone around you at ease, yet you knew that if you needed the slightest thing you would move mountains without asking questions.
Grief doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense that angry tears on a leather couch somehow mean progress.
I’ve found myself questioning and challenging everything I’ve ever believed, shaken to my core, and amidst all of it just missing you, your presence, your voice, and the way you saw and knew me.
Today is the start of November. Another start to another month of another season that you won’t see and I hate it. I’m tired of trying to tell myself to look at the trees and tell myself that death is beautiful because it isn’t. It’s painful and heart wrenching and it is a deep soul pain that I have felt in the most real and physical sense.
I wasn’t prepared for this. Every book I read and movie that I watched was a story that involved some kind of conflict or difficulty or hurt but it always ended in resolution. No one wants to go watch a story of a broken heart that just stays broken, a losing team that just keeps losing, or a Dad that fights with all of his strength for his life and dies a week later.
I’m tired of the mundane. I’m tired of the clicks and ticks and noises that remind me that time keeps passing. I hate the word passed. I’m tired of telling people that you passed. You did so much more. You were so much more that you deserve a bigger and richer word.
I don’t get how to make sense of the lack of resolution, how to find a God that knows all and sees all and is in control of all and loves His children in the greyest of grey areas I have ever known.
Even as the words are being formed from my mind to the tips of my fingers I’m telling myself these thoughts aren’t okay. It’s not okay to not be okay and we aren’t okay with people that aren’t okay. We aren’t okay with death, loss, grieving, and feelings. We’re barely okay with someone responding “okay” instead of good when you ask them how they’re doing in the least sincere way.
But as much as stories with unhappy endings make us angry, we don’t know how to enter into our own, better yet the ones around us. The loose ends confuse us and make us question what we believe and hold to be true. So we stay away.
But You know my frame. You remember that I am only dust.
I read these words in Psalm 103 and was honestly kind of offended at first. Oh I’m only dust? I am barely surviving by the 20 minute break that allowed me to rush to Starbucks and get an extra shot in my latte to do all that today asked of me and I’m only dust?!
But I am. I am only dust and the only context that my small, small frame has ever known and felt and believed is dust. The dust that formed the world around me as You spoke it into existence. The dust that you took to form a man to use his rib to create the woman who would become the mother of all creation, of all that I know, of all that I’ve loved, of all that I’ve lost. Dust.
Its make up makes it seem so very small, so minuscule, so inadequate of grieving, questioning, and beating up against all I have ever known. But that is the very heart of the problem, that all I have ever known is dust.
But you are a God that knows all and sees all and is in control of all and loves His children enough to believe for them when they don’t have the framework that all we have ever seen and known and held dear is dust. It’s vanishing, dissolving, frail, and messy. You see us as the child C. S. Lewis describes satisfied making mud pies because she has never known a holiday at the sea. You lead us by still waters. You restore our souls because you have given them glimpses of more than the dust we have known. Like the little pieces of asphalt that reflect and sparkle the light of the sun. Amidst our mediocrity and inadequacy there are pieces of something more.
So I’m done clinging to the old and the rugged. I’m holding fast to believing that amidst the grey and the dust and the emptiness and my frailty, You understand that I am only dust. But you know there is so much more. And on the other side of dust and limited glimpses is resolution. And in the dust, You are still creating.
Growing up with 2 older brothers will regularly remind you of your inferiority, primarily in terms of physical stature. For me, this reminder was all the more in my face, and what was in my face was really their collar bones as both of my brothers grew to be around 6 foot and 5 inches tall.
I was always small and easy to throw around. I always needed help with carrying heavy things and reaching tall ones. I was the go to one to sit in someone’s lap when we only had 4 seats rather than 5. I was referred to as “little one”.
Recently, when my Dad suddenly passed away, I felt the very opposite. Despite the fact that I was only 22 years old, 2 weeks shy of graduating from college, I was making life or death medical decisions, caring for my Mom in the loss of her husband, filing life insurance claims, and really having to be a big girl.
My mom and I talked about a month after everything about just how old we felt. I told her I felt that on my birthday (the day my Dad passed away), I felt I had aged at least 10 years. Nothing about me felt only 22.
But here recently, I’ve felt back in that place of being the shortest, the youngest, and the weakest. I’ve just felt small.
I read a note a very kind and thoughtful friend wrote me the day after she had sat with me as I cried. In it she said, “I want you to know you can always be small with me.”
And it’s exactly how I’ve felt. Last week I moved into a new (to me) house. I got all of my stuff inside and my family headed home and I had this moment when I had to make myself literally focus on breathing one breath at a time because everything hit me at once. While I’ve had to be so big, inside I am still so small. There was no part of me that had the energy to unpack and move in, no part of me that felt capable of managing a house and bills, and I just felt really overwhelmed and really small.
But there’s also a sense of being small I’ll never get back.
You see when you grow up having a Dad like mine, there is something about his presence. Despite the fact that I always feel like I have to have a plan, keep my ducks in a row, and always make sure everyone is taken care of, with my Dad somehow all of that went away. I knew he was capable. With him, my mind could rest because I knew he had it all under control, had my best interest in mind, and would do absolutely anything to keep me safe.
And I feel small when I miss him.
I feel small when I’m doing laundry and think for a second that something in the dryer is his, when I find a dryer sheet and remember how he always thought it was good luck to find a dryer sheet in your clothes.
I miss the feeling of being squeezed so tightly in his chest and knowing just how very safe I was.
I felt small when I popped a tire tonight and had no clue how to change it. And I feel too small to go to get it repaired without a Dad to call on the other end to help me know what to do.
I’ve tried to tell myself that I’m feeling small so God can show up for me big, but I honestly feel like He just keeps making me smaller. And smaller. And the moment I start to feel like I have everything under control again, something else hits the fan to remind me that I don’t.
That nothing is predictable. No part of creation is under my planning or supervision. I am not in charge of my safety or capable of protecting myself.
So what do I do with that?
I’m learning to be small with Jesus in ways I never have before.
I am learning to stop coming to Him offering Him whatever I can muster up and keep pretending to be okay. I’m coming to Him weak and empty and broken.
And He hasn’t met me in every empty place.
I know that’s not what you want to hear. It’s not what I want to be saying.
He hasn’t. Sure, He has been mindful of it and loved me in it, but there have been gaps that I have felt the depths of. And I think He stays the satisfaction on this side of Heaven to remind us of the brokenness of the world we live in. We feel the pain of it to remember that despite the beauty of His presence, it is not our complete healing and satisfaction. Sometimes there are gaps. Sometimes I sit in my car and cry because my heart gets broken and it just feels like it isn’t surprising anymore.
I’m learning to be small with other people.
I have fought since I could breathe to have it all together for everyone else. I needed to be the leader, the front runner, the caretaker, whether or not in the spot light. I have needed to perform, to prove, to measure up and sometimes the ground underneath your feet gets taken. And I’ve been stripped of this to the point that I have been lost as to how to even interact with people. I’ve wanted to keep people safe from the depths of the sadness and scariness of my heart, but thankfully blessed friends have pushed deeper. I’ve learned that ministering to people doesn’t mean being invincible, but being broken with them. I’ve learned to stop trying to be people’s Savior and remember just how much I need one.
I’m learning that it’s okay to be small.
I remember my brothers getting annoyed at having to help me sometimes. They didn’t understand why I couldn’t just take care of myself or why I couldn’t just understand what they did. I remember feeling so bad and telling myself I would just fake it and be big. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said “six feet tall.” I felt shame for being needy and not being good enough and tried to muster up the strength to function at the same level of my two brothers who were older and bigger. But you can’t function as what you aren’t, at least not without failure and difficulty. And I’ve tried to be big and strong amidst feeling broken into a million little pieces. I’m learning to accept that I’m not called to fill every gap. And that sometimes, the best way to love and care for someone is for me to allow myself to be exactly where I’m at.
I’ve learned to empathize with moments people felt small in Scripture.
I love that God’s Word is not full of people who were constantly put together, but people who were very in touch with their emotions. I’ve sat and wept with Hannah on the temple steps for her barrenness to the point the priest thought she was drunk. I’ve felt the pain of Jacob’s heart when he was brought Joseph’s bloody clothes and told his son was killed. I’ve agreed with David as he pours his heart out to God saying, “Darkness is a better friend than you.” I’ve understood where Mary was coming from when Jesus came to town after Lazarus died and she didn’t go to Jesus, but stayed in her house. And I’ve understood where Martha was coming from when she went right to Him and chewed Him out.
I’m learning that “you can’t experience full recovery until you let your pain be fully uncovered”.
I’ve wanted to tie this up with some truth or hope. We like resolution and happy endings that make all of the pain worth it. The hard part, is sitting in the reality of not having a resolution. Hard parts that characters of Scripture can empathize with us in, like Job, Stephen, Ruth, Jesus, etc. I’ve wanted to “hide my crazy” and just be okay. But you can’t be something you’re not, without failure or difficulty. Our Western brains have been told to find whatever 3 step system we can to healing, wholeness, and wellness and sometimes the best thing for us is to just allow ourselves to be what we are- small.