Light in the shadow of the valley

Don’t turn a deaf ear when I call you, God.
If all I get from you is deafening silence,
I’d be better off in the Black Hole.

Psalm 28:1, The Message

A couple of weeks ago, I had an opportunity to listen to some fantastic speakers at the Festival of Faith and Writing held at Calvin University. It was intense and busy and exhausting–but only because the planning committee did such a great job. Everything from the welcome to the graphics was brilliant. Their next conference is in 2016, and I suspect I will be there.

A lot was going on that week. I’d gotten word that a contest piece I wrote didn’t get on the short-list.  I never expected to win, because all of this is still new to me. So that news wasn’t a surprise and yet it jiggled the “you’re-not-good-enough” gene. I also received valuable  comments  on my manuscript from someone in the target group. Most of it was positive, but do you think that was what I focused on?  Not at first.  The “you’re-not-good-enough” gene got niggled again. I didn’t allow myself to dwell there though. I had been brave enough to put it out there. I can be brave enough to fix what’s wrong in my story. I’m grateful for both experiences.

Anne Lamott was a keynote speaker. As it happens, she was in a state of mourning because she’d spent the previous day sitting with family at a funeral home. Her speech was a little disjointed but she is well-loved and no one cared. There were many good nuggets. The best one? When people are hurting,  show up. Just show up.north of hope

The next day, I listened to Shannon Huffman Polson speak.  She is a captivating speaker.  She spoke frankly and honestly about retracing her parents’ final days in Alaska. Her memoir, North of Hope, talks not only about their death, but her journey towards healing. And there were moments as she spoke about her father where intense grief flickered across her eyes as she remembered. I saw her laugh with someone who knew them, heard her say “yes, my Dad would be proud.” Opposite sides of remembering–pain on one side, joy on the other.

Shannon spoke about the need to reclaim lament. It’s a necessary, convoluted thing. Lament means being brave enough to throw out our broken-heart songs to God, those thoughts that are not always socially acceptable but are naked and true. It’s like a boomerang, she said. Throw it out and wait for hope glimmering on its blades as it returns.  If you don’t see it the first time, throw the boomerang again.  It will always come back. And hope is there, though sometimes challenging to see.  We are taught often that it’s time to ‘get-over’ something, when in fact we never do. Not really. We learn to live with it. Sometimes we grow from it, and always we are changed by it.

I wanted to speak to her afterwards, to tell her that her words touched me, but when it was my turn to thank her, I couldn’t speak. That’s rare for me, unable to control my emotions, unable to choke out any words. I was surprised by a wave of grief. It was intense. It was as though two big fists grabbed my middle and violently twisted in opposite directions. Thoughts of my nephew, who died by suicide, invaded. Thoughts of my sister and niece and other nephew who struggle to survive his death assaulted me. But it wasn’t just that. There have been some other significant losses for me in the last few years, and for those moments, it was all too much.

Shannon couldn’t have been more gracious, and I’m thankful for that.  In a session the next day, Shannon spoke on a panel with Andrew Krivak about how loss can illuminate hope. We inherit loss, so why don’t we embrace it? We have sadness, so why are we so afraid of it?

As a society, we tend towards minimizing the need to lament. I’ve been guilty of that myself. I don’t like feeling those feelings, and yet pushing them away has never helped me. It’s better to feel what I feel in a manner that is honest and true, and trust that God can handle it.  That he’ll help me handle it too.

Perhaps the one thing that mattered most to me is this question:  Will I cling to the shadows? Or will I look for redemptive light. I know what I want to do.  I also know it’s not always where I am.

Where are you today? Clinging to the shadows? Or clinging to the light?

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