J F

julieforkner

Category: faith

uncomfortable

I don’t like to be uncomfortable. My husband can sleep perfectly fine on the surface of the earth with nary a blanket, waking up with a smile & feeling refreshed. Even in my own home, on my own bed, with a fluffy pillow & the feathery down-embrace of my blanket, I can still find myself uncomfortable. Especially if I don’t have my socks. If my feet are cold, it is all over for me. I will not sleep. Cannot sleep. Yes, I have sensory issues, but my obsession goes beyond my senses. I cannot rest if I am uncomfortable.

Because I am obsessed with comfort.

My life isn’t the dream I thought it would be. There are moments are levity. Yes, but also extreme, cascading dives into heartache that border, & at times, dip into & linger in, devastation.  And when I’m there, in that moment, I feel as though I’m destined to drown, choking on deep, deep sadness.

And when these moments happen, I forget the good, the levity. I forget cycle of things; that old truth of what goes up must come down, & what is down, will, eventually, come back up again. I only remember the hurt, & my only effort is in attempting to dismount the dive, & run, full on, away from it.

My aim isn’t always back towards the good. I run blind most of the time, & heavy & hard, towards whatever dream I think will make me more comfortable. And I just keep running further

and further

and further

until all I have left is the memory of what I was running from. It clings to me the way the scent of a restaurant stays in my clothes. Every time I move, the discomfort wafts itself at me, & I remember.

I don’t want to go through hard things.  I don’t want to process them, or experience them. I want to be happy & buoyant & blithe. All the time.

Though I have always sought comfort, there was a period in my life that I didn’t cling to it so desperately. I read this book, When Things Fall Apart, 13 years ago. It was shortly after finding out I was pregnant. I was 20, & single, & it was finals week of my sophomore year of college. I felt like not only had the rug been pulled out from under my feet, the floor itself was disintegrating.

I wanted to run, hard & fast, in any direction that wasn’t the one I was standing in. It was through reading this book, though, that I finally began to realize it was my mindset that needed adjusting, not my circumstances. Pema Chodron helped me understand that though I can’t control my circumstances, I can control how tightly I hold on to them.

She says, “Thinking that we can find some lasting pleasure and avoid pain is what in Buddhism is called samsara, a hopeless cycle that goes round and round endlessly and causes us to suffer greatly. The very first noble truth of the Buddha points out that suffering is inevitable for human beings as long as we believe that things last—that they don’t disintegrate, that they can be counted on to satisfy our hunger for security.”

I thought my freedom would last. The freedom to go & do as I please, the lack of accountability. The security I had in the knowledge that I could leave any relationship that made me uncomfortable. I never, ever imagined myself being responsible for another life.

Ever.

I felt like the only responsibility I would ever have for another life was to not take it & to not eat it. Suddenly, I was faced with the prospect of having to give it & feed it. It was terrifying, & I was decidedly quite unqualified. I was so afraid, & felt so hopeless, that this really stuck out to me, too:

Hope and fear is a feeling with two sides. As long as there’s one, there’s always the other. This is the root of our pain. In the world of hope and fear, we always have to change the channel, change the temperature, change the music, because something is getting uneasy, something is getting restless, something is beginning to hurt, and we keep looking for alternatives. In a nontheistic state of mind, abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning.”

I began to see this stage in my life as a beginning, for both my son & myself. I remember writing in my journal that I needed to Abandon Hope. That there really wasn’t an unseen hand to hold, & from that place, I began to settle a bit. I began to accept what was & allow myself to hurt when I was hurting. I was able sit still when I was uncomfortable because I began to believe that life is cyclical, that it wasn’t some huge obstacle I had to keep pushing through in order to find joy.

I didn’t have peace, I’ll be honest in that, but I did have disciplined, intentional thought. There’s a big, long story about my stepping out of nontheism, into agnosticism, & finally into Christianity. But along that path, I am beginning to realize, I have gradually become less disciplined & intentional in my thoughts. I know I have a hand to hold. I know He cares about me. I know He’s steadfast & never takes His eyes off of me, & with that knowledge, I’ve become a spoiled, complaining, comfort-seeking brat.

I want Santa Christ. I want to always be comfortable & always get my way, & never have to consider that it’s my thinking that needs adjusting, not my circumstances. I still believe that life is cyclical, but I fell into the false gospel of comfort. I struggle with thinking that if life isn’t comfortable, then either God isn’t really all good & all powerful, that He doesn’t see what’s going on, or I’m not being good enough for Him to want to make me comfortable.

But the truth is this, To live is Christ & to die is gain, & in my pain, He will never leave me. He will hold me in His hand on the descent, & He will bring joy in the morning. And to complain as I do, even when I’m just grumbling to myself, it solves nothing. Do I do well to be so angry? No, I do not.

As a believer I’ve become lazy in mind. I’ve become a passive participant in life, & I’m grieved that I haven’t really noticed it until now. So, hope & fear are not a feeling with two sides. They’re feelings on opposing sides. With salvation secure, I can be devastated & still have hope. I can be swimming through sadness, & still have an undercurrent of joy. I don’t have to feel like I am going to choke, & when I do feel fear, I have the power stop that thought. It’s incredible that I haven’t taken the time to develop that discipline in my faith.

Just because I am no longer a nontheist, I can still be disciplined & intentional in my thinking. In fact, as a believer, I am commanded to do so in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” I don’t have to be conformed. I don’t have to be overwhelmed & want to jump off & run away when life’s levity starts dropping. My sense of overwhelm can be transformed through renewing my mind by focusing on the will of God, & remembering His character… I can stand firm in the fact that He is with me through all of it, that He is good & cannot fail, & all will be used for my good & His glory.

In 2 Corinthians 10, we’re told to take every thought captive. My slipping back into desire for comfort, I can take those restless feelings, those needs to change my situation, those thoughts that whisper “it shouldn’t be this way,” “or it shouldn’t be this hard,” I can capture them. Hold them captive & compare them to truth. It’s empowering, & yet, I’ve lived, now 8 years a believer, & have not celebrated this gift. I’m thankful that His mercies are new every morning & that He’s always teaching me more about myself & growing me to be more like him… even if it’s a little uncomfortable.

Open Hearted.

The voice message was short. Upbeat.

“Hi, Julie. It’s your mom. Gimme a call. Bye.”

She also called my husband, though, which meant it was more than just a check in.

I dialed, late, on the way home, with the vehicle full of children running only on adrenaline. My husband hushed them, as she answered the phone.

I remember her words as shards. Our conversation in fragments.

“We’re in the hospital.”

“…but they’re keeping him over night…”

“…we were on the way to a funeral, but he asked me to go to Emory instead…”

I listened. Ben was driving, but my world stood still. Life sped past my window, driving through tiny towns, but it seemed like all that mattered was frozen while I tried to understand. To really gather, ingest, and absorb the information I was being given. I knew if I showed the slightest urge to emotionalize or make big what must be made little, the information given to me would lessen.

I succeeded.

“Would you like to talk with him?”

Yes, please.

“Well, hey, there!”

His voice has always been dark velvet. Soft, deep & warm. I swallowed the crack in my voice before I tried to speak.

“Hi, Dad. How are you doing?”

Hi, Dad. My dad. Don’t leave me, Dad. Not now. Not ever. Please. I’m not grown yet. I don’t have your voice recorded nearly enough. I can’t not be able to call you whenever I want. I want you to always be here, Dad. Please, Dad.

“Well,…” He went on to tell me about enzymes & potassium levels, & lungs – one side clear, the other, not. They were keeping him over night because they wanted to give him a stress test in the morning.

He was OK, & was thankful for such a good hospital. I asked him to have Mom text me when they start his test, & he said we’d work it out. He said he loved me. I echoed his sentiment, & we hung up.

I exited the car. Ben already had the boys inside the house, getting them dressed for bed. Neighbors on their porch called to me. Asked how my weekend had been. We made hard-to-decipher small talk before I finally said out loud for the first time, “My dad is in the hospital. Something is wrong… Maybe… with his heart.”

The words hung in the air like heavy balloons. The distance between us, & my lack of certainty, refused to let the words travel farther than a few inches from my mouth. They smiled & nodded, not understanding, but being polite. We waved good night, & I closed the door behind me.

Later my Ben asked me.

“Are you OK?”

“No. I’m trying to be. They say it’s not a big deal, but, I’m scared. I know he’s going to be fine no matter what happens, but… me. I’m afraid I might unravel. I can’t not have my dad.”

This world keeps throwing such heavy blows. It seems the more I get to know the people in my life, the more I see how much hurt the heart can carry.

& it’s immeasurable.

Every person breathing, is inhaling, in spite of great heartbreak. The more I learn of people’s stories, the more I see how prevalent suffering is. To live without a mother, or with a dying husband. To bury your child, or watch your best friend live it. So close, it’s your own pain, but doubled, sort of. A quarter at the least; the weight of your loss for her, yourself, & bearing the weight of her burden, too.

Communal life hurts.

Life. Hurts.

Because death hurts. Because we weren’t meant to live this. And when we must, our bones cry out for peace. For cease. For suffering to end. For celebration to begin, & never… end.

I think of life, here, on this planet, without the father God gifted me with, & I want to burn the whole world down. Because he’s mine, & I want him. I want to always be able to hold his hand, & hear his jokes, & watch him swing a golf club & listen to him tell me how much he loves my boys & my husband. And me.

I don’t want the memories of his arms around my mother to dim. I don’t want to forget the scent of his skin. Or the scruff of his 5 o’clock shadow. Or his laugh.

At the end of this week, he will have open heart surgery. And when they open his chest, they will be opening mine. And my mother’s. And my sisters’ & my brother’s. Nieces’, nephews’ & my sons’. All open at the same time.

Waiting.

Praying.

The machines that will breathe for him, & beat for his heart, will be working not just for his life, but to keep together those who feel like unraveling without him.

His doctor told him that even though he’s 80 (81 in July), he has the body of a 50-year-old, so he should recover nicely. I’m told it’s a common procedure, but it’s not common when it’s your father. It’s personal. Communal. It’s my procedure, too.

Just as the man sentenced for a crime he didn’t commit is a sentence for his family & friends. Just as the wife who mourns, daily, the depreciation of her husband’s quality of life, is a depreciation for their children, grands, friends & neighbors. We think our suffering is unique to us. That our hurt is not felt outside the four chambers of our heart, but the world aches with us.

He designed us this way.

To bear burdens. To cry together. To walk a hard path once, so we can walk the path with a friend later.

He entered into this. He wept. He cries for our losses. Even when He knew He could (& would, &will!) dry every tear. He wept because we weep. Because this wasn’t what He wanted for us.

But he does bring joy in the morning. In the mourning, too. He is always showing us, shouting at us, through the thick haze of our pain, “I am here. I am steadfast. I will never turn my face from you. Even now. I am here.”

The hands that held my own when I learned to walk this earth are a treasure and a gift. And I want to say, “It will all be ok, no matter what,” but if I don’t get to hold them this time next year, I will be unraveled. And if I am unraveled, & his hands are wrapped around those of my savior, He will still be here. I will be allowed to mourn. A Christian mourning doesn’t make God less powerful.

If there is one thing I know about my Heavenly Father, it’s that He will surely turn my mourning into dancing.

I do hope, though, let’s be clear… I hope & pray that my sweet, earthly father will be dancing with me, here, for many more years. And that the scars we all gain from his surgery this week will bind us closer to each other & our Lord.

broken breath & beauty.

This day is not unlike every other day, with its ebb and flow, its stop & its go. Its rhythm being what is, leaves little space for pondering or whispers, or me. Waking to hands fingering my eyes, begging for technology & breakfast.

Waking after little ones always seems to start my day a pulse behind. Always catching up, always running after, scrambling. I tinker with these thoughts of creating, of releasing that which is pent up in me. Breathing new life into new worlds into new eyes once dull. Inspiration, fleeting. There’s little time for sitting still or hand folding, or connecting to & releasing that which twists & burns inside of me.

My ears’ drum throbs at the beat of technology’s pace & volume. More. Go. Yes! Now! Room to room, all lights on, full energy, full force, full run until it’s a full scream from a partial break in a tiny foot that I was supposed to protect.

All of life: Pause.

brokenfoot

Broken. I was trusted with him.

Breathe. Me. Now.

Self, to me, “breathe, now.”

Exhale, then, guilt. Guilt, the only thing that moves, drips, masquerading itself as tears. Should Have. Would Have. Could Have? but God(!) help me, I can not keep up.

It is through Him only that I am sustained for longer than heart’s beat, or a bone’s snap. And do I praise Him enough? Do my children know that when their worn down mama anchors herself to the kitchen chair & writes furiously, that the words from her heart are pouring into the Hands that knitted them together in her womb? That no man could ever comfort or console or uplift or encourage the way her Father does when gently rocks her back to peace?

Whispering Promises, up from the Holy Flame that burns, and into the place He knows she needs it most…

Do they know?

I wake up behind, but He is in front & He is guiding me, helping me ride this life through. Not gracefully, on my part, but He is ahead stitching together all the pieces He knows I will snag upon my selfishness. For His Own Glory, He picks up the pieces of my heart & anchors them back inside my chest, but this time, beating not for me, but for Him. He picks up the bad, comforts the aching, & breathes beauty into the broken.

*exhale*

brokenfoot2

And then I hear the laughter. He gives strength to the broken, and freedom to the guilty.

See this, my boys, & remember this. As you grow taller & stronger, & find your place in this world, remember: every single thing breaks. And some times it will be your fault, & some times it won’t, but it will happen &, in an attempt to make sense of it all, you will be tempted to blame. Do not slip down this slide into madness. Breathe. & remember, there is One who can comfort you & heal them, & turn broken pieces that, in present, pause the whole of your world, into areas for beauty.

Like that of a boy who can’t be kept down by the weight of a cast & a broken foot… He keeps dancing.

“There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
-Leonard Cohen

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