It took just over 24 hours to cry through the entire box of tissue. We’d driven up the coast, through a steady rain, for a long weekend on Cape Cod. We had no real plan other than resting up, exploring the area, and working our way through a stack of favorite family games. We’d packed cinnamon tea, red wine, books, sweaters, and walking shoes.
We were, after all, following doctor’s orders. Last fall, after a year of worsening symptoms, growing seriousness, trial-and-error medical treatments, and no answers, my husband finally got a proper diagnosis. To put it simply, his body was reacting to years of too much stress and too little rest – too much breaking, too much pouring out, and not nearly enough of being put back together.
Some people are prescribed pills and liquids and shots. Our prescription? Sleep. And yoga. And recreation. And long weekends. And less stress.
And we’ve taken it seriously. It’s been one full year and we’ve completely shifted our schedule. We’ve dropped activities and responsibilities. We’ve made adjustments away from harmful relationships and toward life-giving ones. He dropped a career in church work that had drained every drop of life from us and started his own company from the ground up. We made commitments to stop working nights and weekends, to stop saying “yes” automatically to every ask, every request of our time. And it’s been HARD, but here, a year from the diagnosis, things are better.
Jon isn’t at 100%, but he’s healing, it’s a gift. And our new rhythm of sleeping and rest and recreation to counter all the work, it’s a gift. And Jon’s company has taken off, he’s happy, challenged, fulfilled, a gift. And I no longer lay awake at night simultaneously listening to his sighs of pain, and wondering how I’ll be able to carry him, carry myself, carry our family if things get much worse.
We’ve come so far. Which is exactly why I haven’t been able to figure out why I feel so broken. I should be thrilled, rejoicing – and sometimes I am – but more often I’m anxious and tired. I catch myself grinding my teeth day and night. And I’ve developed some sort of stress-induced skin allergy. At every clenched jaw, and every rashy-flair, I worry, “We’ve come so far. Why can’t I just be OK now?” The only prayer I can pray is a very quiet, “I need help.”
And then we drove North, up, up, up the coast. Rain pouring. We moved into our weekend home, an old barn that had been converted into a Swedish summerhouse – it was perfect. Serene. The rain kept pouring – we stayed in. We slowed down even more. And in all the blank space, words and thoughts and feelings and secrets came bubbling to the surface. Our tears joined the rain and we talked. For hours. Words we’d never spoken – thoughts we’d been too afraid to admit to each other, to ourselves.
Because this past year followed so much pain, and required so much of us. Because this past year has been filled with so much change – at the surface, and even more deep down. And because it's been filled with beauty and love and glimmers of hope in the form of steadfast friends who held us up through coffee and conversations and laughter and wine on the patio and prayers we couldn't utter ourselves. And because we've been broken, but haven't quite been put back together yet. And because all the false beliefs we held about the world, about God, and about ourselves have been dismantled – and rebuilding that foundation is scary, and hard – it's brand new territory and we're just so tired. Maybe we’ll just remain empty, flat. It’s easier.
The last night of our trip we went for a long walk along the water. Both of our boys ditched the walking path in favor of the rocky seawall. I slowed my pace to stay parallel to Breckin as he hopped from rock to rock. He said, “Sorry I have to go slow, I’m making my own path.”
“I don’t mind going slow.” I said.
Maybe we need to be ok with going slow. Maybe we need to allow ourselves time to grieve what’s been hard, what’s hurt, what’s been lost. Maybe we can’t be healed until we acknowledge how badly we’ve been broken. And maybe we release the burden of the idea of instant perfection.
Maybe this is the only way forward: by going slowly, following the water, step by step, making our own path. No formula, no perfection necessary. There may be some wobbles, we may need to double-back at times, but it’s a slow, grace-filled journey, and we’ll get there.
Matthew 11 describes it this way, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”
I thank God for the baptism of tears, and the gift of rebirth. I thank God for the new life we can step into here, now, today, and every day. And I thank God for his unforced rhythms of grace that draw each one of us forward without expectation, without judgement, as we find our very own path.