I, like many others, I imagine, am emerging from some strange cocoon rendered by the pandemic years. It’s been ages and ages since I’ve written; nearly a year, in fact. In the intervening time I have passed that most ancient of hills and crested, turned forty. And yet in some ways I still feel fourteen.
I feel like I am repeating myself to state, unequivocally, that the past few months have been some of the most difficult months I have endured. How many times I have written some variation of that since the children took sick nearly a decade ago is probably near uncountable at this point, but that does not change the truth of the statement. It has been very hard, harder still, dark in ways that just couldn’t even seem possible and yet were, deeper and darker than any road I’ve walked previously. I could never have imagined where my feet have carried me as of late; to be brutally honest, it doesn’t feel like my feet have been walking. It has felt nigh on crawling, clawing, finger tip by finger tip, dragging forward on the roughest of ground.
It has left me wounded, bleeding, and quite heart-sore.
Lest it be misinterpreted, it is not at the hands of others that these wounds have come.
It has been simply, the many and myriad situations we have found ourselves in, quite against our wills, beyond our control. One of my children suddenly developed a rather rare seizure disorder in the fall that they have yet to discover the root cause of. Not soon after, my dearest beloved was diagnosed, after a long battle post-Covid-Sars-Cov2-Delta infection last March, with a rare and degenerative autoimmune disease, requiring extensive and expensive IV transfusions. My husband’s father spent over a month and a half in the hospital during the winter months, landing in the ICU multiple times, and has finally come home only recently. Both he and my husband’s mother caught Covid during that hospital stay, which frankly triggered quite a bit of PTSD for both my husband and I, though thankfully, their infections were much milder than my husband experienced. There were so many other challenges, some more normal that all families tend to face, and some more rare, unique to our situation, but by God, it has been hard. And exhausting. And so very difficult.
My younger children and I have been listening to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings lately, read by Andy Serkis. We happened on this quest quite without planning- some random conversation in the car or at the dinner table raised the awareness that my younger children had not ever heard the story of Bilbo and Frodo (though my oldest two children had)- and we set about to amend that immediately. I think, like so many things I have observed over the last decade or so- the Holy Spirit guides our hands and hearts, even when we are not aware. It was time for us to listen and to learn, and while it may have seemed a random choice, I cannot help but see that Someone much wiser had ordained for it to be so.
There’s a quote, oft repeated, that comes out of the Fellowship.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.“– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Context is key here.
Frodo has just come to the keen and horrific realization that he is putting every one he loves in danger by staying in the Shire. He’s paralyzed by the enormity of what he must do, and Gandalf has no clear answers as to how the journey will end- only that it will be deadly perilous. Frodo is already under the influence of the Ring, but doesn’t realize it yet. As the Ring desires self-preservation, it is doing all in its power to convince Frodo to delay.
Frodo, bless his stout hobbit heart, is overwhelmed and delaying and procrastinating when he says this to Gandalf. It’s somewhat understandable that he is balking at this heavy burden. The fact remains that he is the only that can bear it; it is too dangerous for anyone else.
Starting to sound familiar? Don’t know about you, but that sounds like the journey of suffering to me. Gandalf, in his compassion, tells Frodo that he does understand- but in the end, we only have to focus on what is given to us. We cannot fix the whole world, nor can we even fix or protect our own Hobbiton or the Shire working on our own power, but we can take the first step, and then another, on the path set out for us. In so doing, in that sacrifice, we join in the redemption of the world.
It is a timely reminder when the very foundations of the earth seem to be trembling and we are at a loss as to what to do or where to begin.
Find some trusted friends. Sing some songs as you walk, especially in the dark. One step and then another.
It’s been a sermon I’ve been preaching to my heart often of late.
I was sweeping off our newly built kitchen deck, thanks to the generosity of my father. A project long delayed, finally completed. The sun was warm on my shoulders, and I was suddenly struck by the simple ordinariness of sweeping the deck off. It was the most normal and most quotidian of things to be doing in that moment- a simple chore that you or I have probably completed many times without thought, but this time felt amplified, each moment standing out like a string of golden glass.
I haven’t had a lot of normal for a very long time.
Many times, even, I have had to look on forlornly at un-swept porches full of leaves, gardens gone to seed, weeds growing everywhere, dust and grime caking the bottom of showers and in the corners, cars so full of fast food wrappers and cast off jackets and mysterious goo, laundry grown truly mountainous, an empty refrigerator and pantry, having to choose again something fast or at least on the way home for my husband to stop at the grocery store, literally drowning under the weight of our family’s needs and the requirements of its care. The normal quotidian rhythms of simple home care have been elusive more often than not, buried under the medical needs of our family. We won’t even delve into the regular maintenance required to keep up a house one owns- the lawns mowed, batteries in fire alarms, that odd leak repaired…let alone major renovations, even when they are desperately needed. (Looking at you rotting, decrepit deck that had to be torn off the house for safety reasons, and then left at fiddlesticks for almost four years because it was so far down the priority list, even though we couldn’t walk out of half of our house and it wasn’t technically safe, especially in case of fire).
You don’t realize how the simple and the quotidian ground you until you don’t get to enter into them very often. Sweeping the deck, simple as it was, gave me such a moment to breathe, and appreciate the fact that I was actually in a place to do such a task- such an elusive, elusive thing. Weight rolled off my shoulders that I didn’t even realize had settled there.
It has amazed me lately how often I have taken the simple for granted.
I won’t lie though: even as that golden moment sweeping the deck happened, a dark storm cloud seeped into my mind. How long will it be until this is beyond me again? Will this ever stop? Will we ever find our way? I am so very tired. I feel very bewildered, Lord. My heart is so heavy. Please help.
In that same moment, I could hear Samwise Gamgee whispering in Frodo’s ear, and it brought back strength and hope to my mind. My back straightened and I could feel the sun again. Such is the power of a story and a simple task. I am so weighed down by what I face, but I can feel Gandalf’s gentle compassion, speaking to me too, procrastinating and heart sore as I may be: choose this time. Choose that first step out of the gate. Sing a song in the dark if I can.
Some recent articles that have ministered to me:
Why We’re Required to Find Beauty by Tsh Oxenreider
The Fruit of Obedience (on Hobbit-like faith) by To the Shire
The Mystery of Being Human in a Dehumanizing World by Joshua Heavin