Trust, Love & Ice Missiles

 

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Race Point Beach

I spent last weekend on Cape Cod enjoying my annual pilgrimage to solitude and sanity. I had hoped to leave everything behind but alas, life conspired against me and I ended up bringing homework with me. As it turned out, that was precisely the way it was meant to be. Uninterrupted, I read voraciously, finishing one novel, reading another cover to cover, re-reading half of Eve and dabbling in some rather basic Lutheran theology. New England weather was at its finest with everything from 50-degree temperatures and blue skies to wicked snow and 50 mph winds. In short, this was heaven!

Two rainy mornings left me with some time to reflect on what I learned about trust during Holy Week. Being a student is an escape for me. It’s so easy for me to examine trust as an abstract thing. I look for proof or evidence to make an argument for the existence of trust. I can see it in others but what I miss is that I’m also already in the midst of a trusting relationship. How else would I be where I am right now?  On top of being physically able to be in school, through every assignment, every 5 a.m. paper, every registration decision, I have been led and guided all along the way. Deep down, if I let myself feel, I know that. But there’s always that lingering fear of being abandoned. Maybe that goes away. Maybe it never does. Maybe trust is hanging on in spite of that fear. One thing I’ve come to understand: trust isn’t an abstract. It’s a gut feeling and it comes only with experience. God hasn’t left me yet so I’ll take the next step and see what happens.

Those same two rainy mornings left me the time I needed to finish a paper on relationships and love. Ah yes, love, another gut feeling that  I prefer to hold at a safe distance. ‘Love bites’ was clearly not going to be a great starting point so I had allow myself a less jaded approach. What is love?  Digging past all sappy romantic notions, love is seeking the good of the other and a willingness to hold open space for the other to grow, to be and to become who they are. After all, isn’t that very simply what God does for me? God works for my good and allows me the open space that I need to be who I am, even when who I am is deeply flawed. I have been given the open space I need to grow, to fail, to explore, to be and to become. That same space has allowed me to accept love or to hide from it, to trust or to go it alone. No matter what I choose, that space is always open for me.

Typically, I spend my Sundays at the Cape on Race Point Beach but this time I had planned to spend Sunday morning at church. A little church dating sounded like a good idea. I combed through Google and social media and found a little Lutheran church about fifteen minutes from me. Instead, my last full day dawned to rain which quickly turned to sleet then to snow. 50 mph winds whipped snow into blinding curtains and kicked up whitecaps in the inlet outside my window. Driving would have been a very bad idea. By noon, there were a few inches on fresh and melting snow on the ground and the skies cleared to deep, clear blue. Church hadn’t happened but Race Point still called my name.

I found the driver’s side of my car completely clean. The passenger side was encased in ice and snow. That should have been a clue. But I was so thrilled to be headed to my happy place, knowing the storm would have whipped up the surf and the winds would be wild that I cleared the car without even thinking. I queued up an hour of good music and started driving. I drove the first few miles admiring the snow on the trees and the blue skies. I made it about three miles before the ice missile hit my windshield and scared me half to death. That wasn’t snow on the trees. It was ice. Big, heavy chunks of ice. For the rest of the hour drive I dodged raining ice missiles of death. The closer I got to Provincetown, the more deserted the road became. It left me to wonder if perhaps other people knew something I didn’t. The wind started to really shake my car and I considered turning back but my gut feeling was to keep going.

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Snow Squall, Race Point Beach

The parking lot was empty. It took both hands to push the car door open enough to get out. The roar of the wind matched the roar of the ocean. It was worth every second of the hair-raising drive. I walked up to the edge of the surf feeling so completely alive. The blues in the sky and in the water were beyond description. Then I turned around saw the curtain of black cloud coming straight at me. I got caught in a snow squall walking back to the car. I was truly in my glory.

But on the drive back, I noticed something. The shady, leeward sides of the trees were still covered in ice. Unless the sun and the wind could reach, they would stay that way. About eight years ago in the confessional I was told that my penance was to stand outside with my face tipped up to the sun and to let that warmth soak in until it melted all that was still frozen inside me. Most of that thaw been a long, slow process. But during my time on the Cape, something worked loose. Some ice missile of death was blown harmlessly to the ground and shattered. What I keep hidden in the shadows will never thaw. Pulling those pieces into the light and then letting go takes trust and the open space that only love can give. I have both.

What I Wish My Church Knew (About My Divorce)

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November 7, 2008. Divorce finalized. That’s my anniversary now. And it’s a very lonely one marked by no one but me. Being part of church community after a divorce can be extremely hard and there are some things I wish I’d been able to say over the last seven years but could never quite find my voice. So these are the things I wish my church knew about my divorce.

I need you to believe me.

When I say that things were bad, I need you to know that what little I’m able to bring out words is a thousand times bigger and darker than what I can manage to express. When I come back to you after the divorce saying I need help to negotiate a way for myself and my children to be a part of the community because my ex has now decided to joined as well, I honestly need your help. It’s not a bid for your attention or some game to slam my ex. I don’t feel safe, whether that’s physically, emotionally, or spiritually doesn’t really matter. Church is meant to be a sanctuary, a safe place, and you are the one I’m trusting to help me find that space. I need practical, pragmatic solutions not platitudes or a lecture. I know it’s messy. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t need your help.

Sometimes I lie when I say I’m okay.

When you ask me how I am, look at me. Really look at me. See the circles under my eyes and the tear stains on my cheeks. Hear the strain in my voice. Because there are days when it’s just easier to say I’m okay than it is to explain why I’m not. I know you really don’t have the time after the service to listen about the umpteenth battle over child support or the way my kids have started talking to me the way their father used to or how much it hurts that the guy who I really enjoyed having coffee with will never call me again because dating a divorced woman with teenagers was more than he wanted to handle. I know you have a hundred other people to say hello to this morning so I’ll say I’m okay even when I’m not. And something as simple as hug or a reminder that you’re there if I need to talk goes a long, long way towards letting me know it’s okay to not be okay.

Just because I’m in pain doesn’t mean I’m bitter or unforgiving.

The pain of divorce doesn’t end when the ink is dry on the divorce decree. And that pain changes over time. But that doesn’t mean I’m bitter or unforgiving. I will celebrate a thousand little victories this year that you will never know about and I find great joy in those things that would be silly or mundane to anyone else. I will change my hair or wear that shade of nail polish or go out to dinner alone and it that will feel like I’ve conquered the whole world, because for me, I have. But you’ll never see that. You will see me flinch when you preach against divorce when we read Mark 10. You will see me cringe when you preach about marriage. You will see my tears when you preach about forgiveness. Yes, I am in pain. But that doesn’t mean I’m bitter. And forgiveness for me is everyday thing. Especially when, because of the kids, I still have to be in contact with the one who hurt me so deeply. Instead of assuming I need to let it go or to move on or that I’m resentful, ask me what hurts and then listen to my answer. Listen to what I don’t say and ask me about that too. I already have a lot of people who make assumptions about my life, so please, please don’t be another one.

I feel invisible.

I hear your sermons on marriage and against divorce. I hear your sermons about relationships, including the relationship with God and how you use a good marriage as your example. I feel left behind as I don’t know what that looks like and I don’t know that I ever will. I see happy couples renew their wedding vows during a service and it’s bittersweet for me. My marriage was real. It no longer exists, but it did once. I went into it with such huge hopes and dreams and when I took my vows, I meant them. Seeing couples who have stood the test of time gives me hope that such love is real and possible and I love that you hold them up and celebrate their love. But I wish the church that offers an annual service for all married couples to renew their vows would also hold an annual service of healing for those of us whose marriages imploded. Give me a litany of my defeats and my victories and let me celebrate that by the grace of God I have survived what I thought would destroy me. Acknowledge that I exist and that my situation is not so uncommon. I know a lifetime marriage is the ideal but show me that I’m not alone and that I still matter as much as I did when I was a married woman. Show my children that church is a place of healing for the broken times in life.

I am more than my grief.

I have been divorced now seven years and one day. I lost everything in my divorce, far more than mere property. I came away with my confidence destroyed, my reputation under attack and my dignity in shreds. But I have worked through my grief. I spent time in your support groups and made retreats with other divorced people. I have spent time in therapy and remain in spiritual direction. I have learned who my friends are and sadly, who they are not. I’ve grown and changed and I’m in a different place now. I’m looking for new ways to connect with people. I want room to grow and a channel for my pain. Give me a space to be constructive, beyond working with other divorced people. See that I am more than my divorce. Let my experiences help to improve your pre-marriage preparation program or your marriage ministry or both. I know where I made my mistakes. Let me share that wisdom. Ask me how my divorce has changed my relationship with God. My answers might surprise or inspire you.

These are only some of the things I wish my church knew. What little I’m able to bring out words is a thousand times bigger and darker than what I can manage to express. It’s a question no one has ever asked me but it’s an answer that needs to be heard. We’re all so many different people in so many different situations in life, sitting in your pews, seeking so many different things and in so many different ways. Maybe it would help if you would ask the question: What do you wish your church knew? And then, without judgment, listen to the answers.