I’ve had an emotional couple weeks.
My dear friend and mentor, my Moses in Red Heels, is moving to Texas. We attend a beautiful send-off BBQ for her and her husband. Our church family gathers on a wide green lawn, eating brisket underneath a gigantic oak tree. I wrote a speech that was providentially interrupted by a call to move cars from the orchard due to oncoming tractor traffic–my words kept catching in my throat. I shed some tears that evening, but I hate crying in public. Instead I wake up crying in bed the next morning.
The next week my youngest graduates from preschool. This has not been an emotional event for me any of the other three times I’ve experienced it with my children. I’ve been more like, “Yes! One kid closer to everyone in full-day school!” I’ve been looking forward to this for the last dozen years. So it catches me completely off-guard when, in a sudden spontaneous burst of inspiration, I decide to pop into the office of the preschool director to thank her for the years of faithful service and to let her know what a blessing this institution has been to our family. The thank you comes out just fine, but then when I try to explain that this is my last preschooler the words pool in my eyes. She smiles knowingly and gets up from her desk to embrace me. I feel as if I am watching the scene from the hallway, a sappy moment in a movie of someone else’s life.
Then last week I receive a call that I had given up on receiving years ago. I nearly miss it because I never answer numbers I don’t recognize, and who would be calling me from Grand Rapids, Michigan? Right before it goes to voicemail I remember my processing application and answer, but I had figured I’d receive an email about that… On the other end of the line is an admissions guy from Calvin Theological Seminary informing me that I have been accepted into the distance program to pursue a Master of Divinity degree. I have been accepted under a special provision since I don’t have a bachelor’s degree. I am stunned numb with joy.
“Holy cow!” Verbatim, those were my first words to mark this sacred journey. Followed by, “Wow… Thank you… Wow… Man… Thanks… Wow…” I filled all the silence with word-sounds to the point he graciously let me know that I didn’t need to say anything. Thank God he gave me permission to stop saying nothings! It gave my brain enough time to catch up with my life.
I tend to interact with my emotions as if someone else is having them. I take these charged-up experiences and shove them into individual mason jars, screw the lid on tight, and store them on a shelf in my heart to be safely studied from a comfortable distance. “Hmm, so this is grief,” I wonder aloud at the shifting shadows in the jar and wax poetic about its depths. “Wow… This joy is bright and also misty like fog. Interesting,” I jot a note in my journal. The sterile, controlled environment suits me, but the pressure in the jars builds to bursting. The lids rattle and steam. Then comes the explosion, spearing sharp shards in all directions of my messy heart. A siren of anxiety blares and I struggle to seal the exits to contain the incident.
My body interprets all of it as fear. For as long as I can remember this is my default setting, part of the trifecta of my signature sin cycle of gluttony-lust-fear.
Reluctant and stumbling, I decide to take a solo hike for space to process–to feel. This is embarrassingly difficult for me. It’s a gorgeous day and there are hundreds of people in the park, and I am afraid of them all. As I make my first ascent on an empty trail a rustling in the brush causes me to gasp and jump. A small lizard zig zags across the path and up a tree. I am waiting for horror and tragedy to overtake me. Always anxiously waiting, vigilant to search for signs everything is about to go sideways.
Praying a wilderness prayer, trying to answer the Lord’s questions to Hagar, Where have you come from? and, Where are you going? I fight my way up another steep incline. My legs and lungs burn, and my eyes, as I name where I have come from: I list my fears one by one.
At the top there’s a metal bench, a memorial to a father who I know died of cancer. Who endured the sudden loss a son before he succumbed. I think of his wife. I do not feel safe in this world. Sitting on the bench, surveying the summering valley below, I turn at a sound from behind me and notice the bench has a bronze plaque engraved with Matthew 11:28: “Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” I pull my journal out of my pack as tears make tracks from behind my sunglasses down my dusty cheeks. I wipe my nose on my arm and hope the couple coming up the trail excuses what I hope they will interpret as allergies.
Can you be allergic to emotions? I think I have that.
Struggling in prayer, and seeking solitude, I begin to make my descent. Where are you going? I step carefully and still slide on the loose ground in rhythm to this question. Where-step. Are-step. You-step. Going-slip. And again. I’m not familiar with this trail. I chose it thoughtlessly to get away from the couple by the bench. I think I know where it meets the road, though. Where. Are. You. Going? I respond without further consideration, “I don’t know. With You. I am going with You.” And in the mysterious way that the right words unlock and unstick and unbind and unfold, I feel the tension leave my neck and shoulders. I breathe deeply; inhale-With, exhale-You.
Lightheaded with new old-hope and relieved I have almost survived being alone in a public place, my steps quicken across the open meadow as I make my way back to my minivan. I must pin this grace down.
An unexpected rustle near the path stutters my steps. Instead of jumping away this time, I am still. A tiny nutmeg rodent pops partially out of a hole. I watch for five minutes, hustle back to my van and write a poem:
A sound next to the path startled me.
Overcoming my anxiety and flight reflex,
I turned and
He–she?–came out of her hole
Just enough to reach sustenance
Tender greens growing on her stoop.
I reached for my phone to record this wondrous moment of nature
And the sound sent her diving back inside for safety.
I recognize that move,
That sudden flash of anxiety that catches in your chest.
I waited quietly until she returned,
hoping she could sense my friendship,
we have a Creator in common, after all.
I took a short video–
I can’t help but share when inspiration distracts me:
Look! Did you see this?! Isn’t it incredible?!
She quakes at the click of my pen
How can I not record such a marvel?
I watch her for five minutes and know we are alike.
Those skittish, un-trusting movements relax.
She becomes a little more bold as she surveys me, pen in hand–
my hand not hers–
although I couldn’t see hers, so who’s to say?
Perhaps she recognized me,
kindred in our fears and flightiness.
There may be safety down there,
but there’s no nourishment in the dark.
Surfacing is sacrifice.
Light on our faces comes with its own risks.
I point her out to passerby
They call her a mole!
I commit her to our God’s faithful care
and continue on my journey
lighter than I’d left.
I am fearful, likely will always be. I am sensitive and try to control this by limiting my exposure to my emotions, to the world; I’m working on that. I pay attention and share what I see–I can’t even help that. It’s time to do a new thing, I am excited and afraid, and alright with that. This is how God made me, and He is with me always–come what may.