In 2018 I had the opportunity to write for a friend’s e-newsletter. The last topic I wrote about was pain. Almost a year later, I know God used that topic to prepare me for the incredible pain that would be coming in 2019. My friend had circumstances arise in her own life that led to ending the e-newsletter and I probably wouldn’t have been able to keep up with it even if it had kept going. This year has been painful, confusing, full of answerless questions. This year has been faith-building.
Here is what I wrote for that newsletter last December:
Sometimes thinking can seem easier than feeling. Pain comes into life in so many ways and everyone deals with pain in their own way. Walking through pain, finding the new normal, is very personal. I’ve had to find my new normal through many good-byes in life either as the one moving away or to those leaving. I lost my first baby. I moved to the other side of the world with two toddlers and halfway through a pregnancy. Dear friends and family have died, leaving an empty space. My old normal didn’t exist anymore. The new normal feels so weird and foreign and getting there feels like it takes so long. I’m a person who processes (sometimes too much) and processing pain engages the brain in a different way. This has been what processing pain has looked like for me.
Everything just feels numb, dead. The pain makes me feel like the Dead Sea, where nothing lives, nothing flourishes. The Dead Sea is a salt water lake in Israel with a salt content so high that nothing can live in it. Other times the pain is like pounding, enormous ocean waves knocking me over again and again and again. I can’t stand up. I can’t get my bearings straight. The world seems a blur of salt water and sand with rare glimpses of land or the sun. I’m overwhelmed and think total defeat is near.
But total defeat is not an option. And eventually the waves start to slow a little. Some days I can function. I can see more of the sun and the land. Life starts coming back after feeling completely dead. The salty tears that fell rapidly and frequently reduce. My head begins to clear and I engage my brain again a bit. Some days I have to only engage my brain. Some days I need a break or need to logically engage my pain instead of being so emotionally wrapped in it.
Those days are more like a meromictic lake. The water is layered in these lakes and only a few exist in the world. Most lakes the deeper waters of a lake mix with the shallower waters at least once a year, but with meromictic lakes that doesn’t happen. In same cases it means there is a salt water layer and a fresh water layer.
So I engage the pain differently. I decide that for today I will take a break from the grief or anger or whatever strong emotional response I’m having to my pain. Those harsh emotions, like the harsh saltwater, are separated from the more logical mental engagement, the clearer layer of fresh water. These days may just be what saves me.
Over time, the bombardment ceases. The healing, clarifying fresh water mixes with the brutal salt water. Life springs anew in an estuary, a place where a fresh water source meets a body of salt water and creates a unique ecosystem. At this place a mixing of healing joins with the pain I’m healing from to bring forth a life I didn’t know would exist, but one that is teeming with life and growth. A new normal.
When I wrote that last year I did not know what life would look like or the questions I would have now. How do you go on after losing a parent? How do you go on after feeling betrayed? How do you go on when people who say they love Jesus have done things very much not of Jesus? How do you go on when your day to day is a life people question? How do you go on when you’ve been unmoored?
You walk by faith. You get up. You get out of bed. You feed your family as best you can. You keep homeschooling even with the challenges. You walk by faith. You cling to the things like your marriage and your children that God gave you as a way to get through. You build altars even for the small things where you see God working. And, again, you walk by faith.
We’ve spent eight years in Asia. For eight years we’ve walked on Asian soil and eaten Asian food and lived in our Asian house and driven our Asian cars and visited a number of Asian countries. We’ve interacted with so many Asian people and picked up little bits of Asian languages. For eight years we’ve taken a step at a time, or not taken a step at all, all by faith in the One who holds us through it all.