We may be tempted to believe that those acquainted with grief should take the smaller losses in stride. We may think that after the loss of a parent, a child, a sibling, a spouse, what’s so bad about selling your home or a child growing up or friends and family moving away? But I find it’s quite the opposite. Once acquainted with grief, all the other losses become greater.
Grief remembers grief. And when those feelings of loss come in like the tide, washing over my toes and ankles, in that moment my body, mind and spirit remember…I remember…I remember all the times the waves crashed into my thighs, my gut, my chest, even over my head. And the feelings, though I do not call to them, though I do not want them, though I hope against hope they will stay at sea…those feelings come anyway.
The sorrow, the heavy emptiness, like a vacuum stealing air from my lungs. “It’s hard to sleep, to even breathe, harder still to wake and leave.” The waves come and I can’t stop them. Wet and salty and cold enough to burn, they come. Until I’m drowning, full of a sorrow I can’t contain, and those wet, salty waves, spill over the shores of my eyes. Waves that run hot now, because they come from the deepest wells of my heart and soul, the place where love dwells…no matter how I try to wall it off, or pack it away in ice…there lies love, love that can’t stop, won’t stop, burning, yearning, turning toward the smallest open crack.
Oh dear friends, and oh my soul, grief remembers grief because love remembers love. And love never fails.
Here’s the thing: If I knew when I committed to writing this post that the blogosphere would be buried in Frozen commentary like Arendelle in deep, deep, deep, deep snow, I probably would have reconsidered. But alas, I’ve promised a post, so here it is.
If you have kids, teenagers, college students or well, even a young-at-heart-sister-in-law, then you’ve most likely spent your winter as I have: listening to said family members belt out the entire Frozen soundtrack morning, noon and night. My girls have even taken to singing duets, complete with knocking on a door, any door, before crooning: “Do you wanna build a snowman?”
And then they built one. Look familiar?
Anyway, I have this quirky habit of perceiving spiritual truth in all sorts of pop-culture media. Give me a minute and I’ll preach you a sermon on Finding Nemo, Perfect, The Hunger Games. (In some case, I already have.)
Frozen is no exception. Besides, you didn’t seriously think I could watch a movie with the tag-line “only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart” and not write about it, did you?
But that’s not because I want to preach you a sermon. Rather, it’s because I know what it’s like to have a frozen heart. To live so heavy under a curse, that I feared being discovered, being known. “Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know,” were lyrics to the soundtrack of my life long before Disney wrote Let it Go.
Some hearts, like Elsa’s, freeze because of fear, and some hearts, like Anna’s, freeze from wounds caused by others. For most of us, it’s a combination of both.
I know what it’s like to be mortally wounded – to be struck through the heart with icy shards of rejection and abandonment. To feel the cold spread across my chest, squeezing the air from my lungs, leaving me breathless, face down in the hard earth.
And I know what it’s like to do the wounding, the destroying – to be the ice queen. To detest the woman in the mirror. To distrust my darkened self, because “I can’t control the curse.” To live in terror of corrupting everything I touch, everyone who comes near me because there’s “no escape from the storm inside of me.”
I’ve fought in vain to be “the good girl [I] always had to be” – not just because I don’t want to be hurt – but because I don’t want to hurt others. And I have run away, isolating myself in an ice castle of my own design. A place where fear bars the doors to pain…and love.
Ice castles. We all build them. At first they seem beautiful, protective, even empowering, like Elsa’s. (OK, hers was pretty awesome.) But they’re also cold and confining.
Like Anna, people have come knocking on my door, offering me love with open hands: “You don’t have to keep your distance anymore. We can head down this mountain together. You don’t have to live in fear. I will be right here.”
And like Elsa I have cried out, “You mean well, but leave me be. Yes, I’m alone, but I’m alone and free! Just stay away and you’ll be safe from me!”
But can a person be alone and free? Our ice castles – fortresses built to protect and isolate – are less like palaces and more like prisons than we care to admit. But even if the cold never bothered us anyway, loneliness and disconnection weary the heart. And weary hearts can’t fly free.
We can be alone, but we can’t be alone and free.
Yet sometimes, a weary, earth-bound heart seems bearable in exchange for a life safe from harming or being harmed. But a life without love inflicts its own sort of pain. Not only on us, but on those around us.
Elsa’s cry, “Just stay away and you’ll be safe from me!” sounds like a noble sacrifice and a reasonable demand when considering the stakes. But she failed to discern the thin, sharp edge that separates truth from reality…
To avoid others, to avoid love or vulnerability or pain, is not to be free, but to chain ourselves to freedom’s great imposter: independence.
Elsa believed that she could shut away her frozen heart and live independently without consequence. But the opposite happened. By isolating herself and giving in to her fear and curse, she set off an eternal winter, nearly destroying her entire kingdom. She wasn’t free at all. In fact, things were worse than ever.
And so it goes with us. How often do we succumb to our darkest fears, satisfy our guilty pleasures, indulge our most agonizing curses, and tell ourselves that as long as we do it alone, no one will get hurt? But someone’s always getting hurt.
Build an ice castle and no matter how much it sparkles, you will wound hearts and court the eternal winter…because relational independence is a lie. Our choices and our actions affect each other in ways far beyond what our eyes can see or our minds can know.
The truth is that we were created for community, connection, relationships – with God and with each other. Relationships aren’t a luxury; they are a necessity – living water for our thirsty souls.
Community, first with God in the holiest of communities: where the warm, glowing Breath of Life and Love made ours by the ultimate act of true love, thaws our frozen hearts and lifts the burden of our curse so our souls can take wing. Only in binding ourselves to Him, our True and Mighty Fortress, are we set free.
Free to love from the fortress of His perfect love, we are Not Alone, but Sons and Daughters, Brothers and Sisters. Like Elsa and Anna, we can face this life together, hand in hand, even though someone might get hurt.
And therein lies the greatest freedom: to throw open the doors of your heart and love, really love…despite the risk, despite the loneliness, despite the pain, despite the failure, despite the brokenness. That is true freedom.
I wrote the following piece of fiction in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge: Traces, in which we were encouraged to talk about leaving our mark. Interestingly enough, I posted on a similar topic in January. As WWC posts are supposed to be written specifically for the challenge, I have created something new (below). If you would like to read my non-fiction thoughts on the subject, feel free to visit YOLO or YOLOL | A Post for the New Year.
With her finger, she traces the engraved letters, one at a time.
The stone feels cold. Cold and hard. And final.
That’s all. The rest had worn away. It was a long time ago for this world that forgets so quickly. And yet for her…
He was young and strong and strong-willed. She loved him instantly. She watched him for months before he noticed her. And even then, only because she wanted him to. His training was over and he would leave soon for the war. She knew she shouldn’t, but she did it anyway.
He sat alone at the bar, staring into his drink, his right leg shaking anxiously. She’d been studying him long enough to know that he wasn’t worried; he was impatient and excited, but not worried. Like so many others, he was eager for battle, for a chance to make a difference, to give his life for what he believed in.
She, however, had seen too many wars. Not dozens or hundreds, but thousands. Thousands upon thousands. Her heart, drenched and heavy with the blood of a million men, felt light when she looked at him – his dark hair and bronzed skin offset by bright, green eyes. His earthiness, his humanity pulled her toward him.
He started when he saw her. It was as if she had just appeared in the seat next to him. He stared, speechless, at first. Her beauty…it was otherworldly. Golden-red hair tumbled in waves over her bare, fair shoulders and her eyes were the most unusual purple-grey. He felt himself relax into her smile, as if he’d known her all his life.
“You smell like lavender,” he breathed.
“I…what?” she laughed, almost embarrassed.
“You just…I’m sorry…I just,” He let out a sigh and smiled. “Hi.”
“Hi,” she smiled back.
Three days was all they had. Three days.
Confident and maybe a little naive , as the young so often are, he kissed her tears and promised to come back for her. As he walked away, she let him think he was leaving her. Let him think she’d be there when he returned…if he returned.
Sometime later, he saw her again. She’d been watching, as she was destined to do. In the fighting and the fury, among the gunfire and the screaming, she glided, seeing but unseen. Watching, waiting. And choosing. She had no choice but to choose.
Just as she brushed her hand over the terrified eyes of a soldier too young to be a man, closing them forever, she heard him. His screams tore into her. His humanity, again, drawing her to him, above him, by his side.
She understood instantly, as her kind always does, that his wounds, while not fatal, were devastating. And so she chose.
He lay on his back, his face waxing pale as the agony began to overwhelm him. But his eyes, darting back and forth, searching the gun-metal sky, glistened green like springtime. He began to call her name.
And then, because she wanted him to, he saw her. His anxious eyes settled on her face and his body slackened. With her fingertips, she brushed the hair away from his face, so he could see her better. And at her touch, his breathing calmed.
“You…smell like…lavender,” he whispered with a playful smile.
She intended to laugh, but a sob escaped in its place.
“Hey. Don’t cry. It’s OK. See? I promised you I’d come back. And here I am.”
Swallowing her tears, she replied, “And here you are.”
She gazed into his eyes for a long moment before resting a hand on either side of his bloodstained face. She leaned into him and touched her lips to his. They were cold, as she knew they would be.
But hers were warm. Warm and soft and gentle and painless and….
…for her, it seems like days, hours even, though more than a hundred years and thousands of battles and countless souls have passed. Yet, she would never forget, could never forget.
She holds the lavender close and, taking a deep breath, fills herself with the earthiness. Then, just as she positions the purple and green flowers beneath his name, she’s gone.
Dear friends, I have a new post on our church’s 40 Days blog. Here is a taste, then you can keep reading at their site if you like:
Recognizing God’s voice…that’s a phrase packed with will all sorts of potential reactions. Here’s some that come to mind:
Oh, so now you think God is speaking to you. Great.
I don’t hear God. I pray. I meditate. I sit in silence. But guess what? Crickets.
Umm…does this mean I’ll hear a voice? Or have a vision? Or fall down on the ground and start screaming and hollering? Because I really don’t want to cause a scene. Just sayin’.
God has already spoken. The Bible is His final word.
Are you hearing voices in your head?
How do I know if what I hear is from God?
I’m actually kind of afraid to hear from God. What if He’s angry with me? Or worse…what if He doesn’t say anything at all?
And of course there’s the unspoken fear of many comfortable Western Christians:
What if He tells me to sell all my belongings, shave my head and move to Zambia? ‘Cause that happens…like all the time…right?
Listening for the Lord, hearing from Him and then understanding what He’s saying can be scary and frustrating. But it can also be exhilarating, freeing and life-changing. I am grateful that some of my first experiences as a Christian included Listening Retreats. At those retreats...keep reading this post
The other morning as I was praying for a friend, these words just poured out onto the pages of my journal. About halfway through, I realized that this message is not just for one particular friend (though it is certainly for you, my dear) but for all of us. Happy Easter, my friends.
What if we just stripped away all the theology, all the questions, all the seeming inconsistencies of life … and just let Jesus love us?
What if we took a step back from our toil, set down our work and opened our hands. I would like to sit in a chair – perhaps a rocking chair – and rest my tired feet and aching muscles. And then, what if we just sat back with nothing left to do but receive His love?
No need to labor over this or that. Forget about if you’re doing a “good enough” job. Stop fretting over whether you said this right or thought that right. Just stop and let Him love you.
Because His love just is. There is nothing you can do to change it. You can’t increase His love or decrease His love. His love has no limits – past, present or future. His love is perfect, bottomless and complete. God’s love just is.
So what if instead of thinking about love, trying to figure it out, you just sit back, relax and open your heart?
You may say that you don’t get it – this love. You wonder, how can you receive His love when you can’t even fathom it? Here’s the thing: you will never truly be able to fathom the depths of His love because it’s His love… and He is God.
But you can experience His love. You can receive His love.
When you were a child, you didn’t understand or fathom your parents’ love. How could you? An infant, a toddler, a child, a teenager can’t know what it is to love with a parent’s love. They can’t even begin to understand such love.
Oh, but they receive it! Like a dry sponge, they soak in every ounce of love their parents will give them.
And so it is with God. We don’t have to understand His love….we just have to receive it.
He loves us. Whether we love Him or not. His love never changes, never runs out, never gives up. His love for us, for me, for you… just is.
And this love is more faithful, more powerful, more rich and deep and warm and consuming and freeing and nourishing and redeeming and forgiving and compassionate and nurturing and constant
and merciful and gracious and fierce and healing and completely free… than any love we’ve ever known.
His is a love we cannot fathom. But it is a love that is ours.
Let go of your toil. Let go of your work. Let go of your need to figure it all out. Let go of every last shred, every little thread, every tiny cord of control. Let go so that you can open your hands and receive.
Let go. Let go. Let go. And let Him love you. Let Him have you.
He waits. He waits at the gates of your heart for the moment you will turn the lock, pull back the heavy doors and let Him in.
He waits. He longs to give Himself to you. Receive Him. He is yours.