It’s Easter, the time of year when Christians celebrate the end and the beginning, the death and the resurrection. It is also Springtime, when that which was dead awakes and is renewed.
For the past six years, Easter has taken on special significance for me. In my own life, I too celebrate death and resurrection, beginning and end.
Six years ago, my family and I traveled north to my brother’s house for some time with my family of origin. It was while we were there that we learned that my mom had cancer. It was also there that the crack in my marriage became too big to ignore.
At the end of the evening, when we were all shell-shocked with the realization we might lose mom, my husband and I got into an argument. I knew suddenly, with painful clarity, that if things didn’t change, this marriage would end. On the long drive home, I told him, in low tones so the girls in the back of the van couldn’t hear, that if things didn’t change, the marriage would be over. By the time we’d gotten home, we’d agreed that the next step would be counselling.
Something else happened that weekend before we’d gone to my brother’s place. Sitting in church on Easter morning, I had the sudden realization that the church I’d called home for the past fifteen years no longer felt like the right place for me to find community. Though I still loved the people in the congregation, changes in the church and changes in me made me feel like I didn’t fit anymore.
Monday morning, I woke with a horrible sense of dread, knowing that I was standing on the precipice of destruction. Everything was crumbling and I stood to lose the two people closest to me – both my husband and my mom – and the community that had once been my greatest support. The ground underneath my feet suddenly felt like it had turned to quicksand.
On top of that, I was in the first faltering steps of growing a businesses, and wasn’t making much money at it yet, so I had very little security of any kind.
When I look back over the five years following that fateful Easter Sunday, what I remember most is struggle and resistance. I was struggling to keep everything from falling apart and resistant to the changes I was afraid were coming. My husband and I attended repeated rounds of marriage counselling in hopes of saving our marriage. Together with my siblings, I supported Mom as she went through surgery and repeated rounds of chemo. I joined a new leadership committee at church, hoping a renewed commitment might help me feel like I fit again. And all the while I was struggling to make my business viable and to be a good mom for my teenage daughters.
One by one, all that I’d feared that Easter Sunday fell apart. Mom died a year and a half after she was diagnosed. My marriage ended and I stopped going to church. Three for three.
Yesterday, I was building some Powerpoint slides for a talk I’m giving in Kentucky next week, and I was looking for a visual metaphor for a point I want to make about how the work of holding space is very often the work of supporting destruction and regeneration. What I finally came up with can be seen in the photos below – a Lego house that is destroyed so that a bridge can be built out of the pieces.
As I was building it, I wasn’t focusing on how personal it felt, but now that I look at it, I see my own story. My life was like the house in the first picture – tidy and secure, with my mom, my husband, and my church standing as the walls that kept me safe. But a house wasn’t what was needed anymore. It had kept me safe and secure for the first half of my life, and for that I was grateful, but now I needed to step into a new story. Instead of the safety and security of a house, it was time to transform and embrace the possibility and risk of a bridge.
The transformation can’t happen without the destruction. That’s what the story of Easter teaches us.
What made me feel safe needed to be dismantled because it was also keeping me stuck. Safety meant that I wasn’t telling the truth. I wasn’t living authentically. I wasn’t stepping out in boldness. I was saying and doing the things I needed to say and do in order to keep everything from falling apart. I was letting fear guide me instead of courage.
But now that it’s all fallen apart and I discovered I was strong enough to live through the pain, I am receiving the gifts of the destruction.
I am living more boldly because I have less to lose. I am telling the truth because I know I can. I am living like each day matters because I know it can all end in a moment.
In the process, I am building new relationships and finding new community that feel increasingly more authentic and connected to who I am now. I don’t have time for shallowness anymore – I need depth and passion, and that’s what I’m pouring my energy and my heart into.
After the destruction, I am living a bigger, bolder, more beautiful life. I am crossing the bridge instead of staying stuck in the house. That’s the gift of falling apart.
Tomorrow is Good Friday, the day we focus on the death of Christ. It’s a sombre day that reminds us of our own endings, deaths, and failed dreams. But that’s not the end of the story. Just around the corner is Easter Sunday, the resurrection, the delight, the fulfillment.
If something is dying in your life, don’t fight it, let it go. Release it and trust, because just around the corner will be your chance to rise again, to be made new.
After the destruction comes the possibility.
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If your life is falling apart, perhaps I can hold space for you with some coaching? If you’re rising from the ashes and are using your experience to help you hold space for others, join us in The Helpers’ Circle. If you’d like to explore how writing might support your transformation, there are two opportunities (one online and one in-person) to join the Openhearted Writing Circle.
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I love Easter. There is so much good in it. There’s something about the resurrection story, and the many little reminders nature offers us at this time of year of how new things are born out of last year’s death that keeps me coming back to faith.
By the end of almost every Easter weekend, after the Easter services, the time with family, the great food, and the easter egg hunts, I’m in a happy, contemplative mood.
Almost every year… except last year.
Last Easter was horrible. Epically horrible.
On Maunday Thursday – my mom’s birthday – we received confirmation that my mom had cancer. A fairly serious kind in her internal organs that had way too many unknowns for our comfort.
Three days later, on Easter Sunday, my 18 year marriage unraveled. On the way home from an Easter “celebration” with my family, I told my husband that it was either time for us to live apart, or else we’d need to find someone who could help us overhaul our severely broken relationship. It just wasn’t working anymore. We’d forgotten how to communicate and I was tired of feeling angry, hurt, and lost.
I did a lot of crying in the weeks after Easter.
Ironically, a month before Easter, I’d started a series on my blog called “Let go of the Ground“, about how we are all called to surrender – to the Mystery, to the God of our understanding, to our calling, to Love. The premise was that – like the caterpillar who must surrender to the cocoon and enter the difficult transformation process before becoming a butterfly – we too must surrender and learn to trust what is emerging for us. I interviewed a bunch of wise people about their own surrender stories, and I was preparing to create an e-course on the subject. It felt like important work and I knew I had some wisdom to share, having experienced groundlessness and transformation many times in my life.
But then… Easter came, and groundlessness wasn’t just a topic for a blog post. I was living it all over again, and not by choice. The ground had been whipped out from under me and I was plunging through space without a parachute.
It’s easy to talk about surrender when you’re on the far side of transformation and you know what it feels like to fly. It’s another thing entirely when you’re in the messy, gooey chrysalis stage, you’re hanging by a fragile thread, and you have no idea when and how you will emerge.
The months after Easter continued to be hard. Mom started chemo, lost all of her hair, got continually sicker, went for surgery in the summer, and then spent a few more months in chemo. Normally an energetic, young-for-her-age woman who takes delight in climbing trees with her grandchildren and being the fastest one (and sometimes the only one) up the climbing wall when she goes to seniors’ camp in the summer, Mom could hardly handle the many hours she was forced to spend sitting or lying around. I could see her muscles twitch when someone else was in HER kitchen making food for her.
As for my marriage… we agreed that it was best for the kids if we stayed in the same house while we tried to repair what was broken. Like a couple of brick-layers trying to rebuild after a tsunami has wiped out the village, we gathered the pieces that still looked like viable relationship-building bricks, added a few new ones, and started piecing them together slowly but surely. Fortunately, we found a counsellor who was good at helping us do that.
Now it’s a year later, and I’d be lying if I told you I feel like a butterfly with freshly dried wings, fluttering effortlessly through the air. No, there’s lots of effort still involved, and lots of unknowns. I still feel pretty groundless.
But things are changing, and Spring has come again. When we rake away the dead leaves of last year, we see the tiny shoots poking their way out of the dirt built from many deaths in seasons past.
My mom started baking buns again last week, a sure sign that some of her energy is coming back. (When she starts distributing them to everyone in the neighbourhood who could use some nourishment, we’ll know she’s truly back.) Her chemo is finished, and it appears that the cancer has been halted for now. She cooked us a big meal for Easter and we celebrated together. True to form, she’s headed off on a trip with her husband later this week, headed to places where tulips bloom in rows and rows of wild and glorious colour.
Though it’s not perfect, my marriage feels much more stable than it did a year ago. We’re finding new ways of being truthful with each other and we’re working on rebuilding our trust. It feels hopeful, like there’s something worth fighting for. There are enough salvageable bricks that we can build a relationship that is better but still carries with it the stories of the old one.
It’s because of these stories that I continue to believe in the resurrection. Life comes out of death. Hope emerges out of darkness. Beauty follows surrender. God makes good things grow when we let our egos die.
There are many, many people who will try to tell you otherwise. They’ll try to sell you magic. They’ll try to tell you that life can be easy if you have enough positive thoughts and you surround yourself with people who are always happy, happy, happy. They’ll insist that if you attract good things, you won’t have to suffer.
I’m here to tell you that those people are telling you half-truths. Don’t get caught up in their deception no matter how convincing they are. They’re snake oil salespeople trying to make a quick buck out of your desire for an easy life.
Easiness is not the path to true happiness. Surrender is.
It’s not that I don’t believe in miracles – I do. I’ve seen them happen many, many times.
But the best kind of miracles are those that show up in the middle of the grit and suffering and messiness of life. The best kind of miracles are the hugs from friends when you need it most, the breathtaking sunset that brings tears to your eyes, the offering of support when you feel like you’ll crumble, the first crocus of the season – blooming despite the threat of frost, the fresh baked buns after a year of cancer, the tender touch of a loved one after you’ve regained trust, and the butterfly that flutters past when you’re lost in the woods.
The best kind of miracles don’t take you out of the suffering or make you immune to it, they simply help you bear it.
We need the suffering if we’re going to get to true beauty. We need the dying compost if we’re going to get crocuses in the Spring. We need the gooey chrysalis if we’re going to learn to fly.
Without the death, we wouldn’t get to celebrate the resurrection.
Despite my restlessness, Christianity has always been a part of my life. I haven’t always embraced it wholeheartedly, but even when I didn’t, it always seemed to hang around the fringes. I suppose that’s how it usually is with the faith you’ve been raised in.
I don’t nearly always “get it” though. Sometimes it just seems like a strange thing to believe in. Sometimes it just seems like a strange way to direct your life. And sometimes it seems like there aren’t very many Christians I actually like very much.
Mostly, though, I think my restlessness stems from the fact that the central story of the Christian faith – the story of Christ’s death – doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I’ve heard every explanation in the book, and sometimes I’m okay with accepting one or another of those, but other times they’re just not enough to convince me to continue to commit to a faith that has such a gory, complicated death as the central focus.
I’ve been through a few rejection phases along the journey. Sometimes it’s because the questions run so deep and sometimes I just can’t get past how messed up the church can be. In university, I studied eastern religions and found myself quite drawn to some of them. Buddhism, for example, had many principles that intrigued me, and there was something appealing about a faith perspective that didn’t involve believing that someone needed to “die for my sins”.
For whatever reason, even when I wandered away and tasted other fruit, I always found myself coming back to the faith of my ancestors. Perhaps it’s like coming home – it’s not necessarily always beautiful or an easy place to be, but it’s safe and known.
This afternoon I sat in the Good Friday service, once again puzzled by the story we’re asked to believe. The music team sang of the sacrifice of Christ’s life for our salvation, and I sat there feeling numb because it just didn’t make sense to me. Why? Why did he have to die a brutal death? If God created us, why couldn’t he just forgive us and redeem us? I know the church answers – I’ve heard them all my life – but sometimes the answers escape me and I’m left with nothing but more questions to add to my considerable heap.
While I listened to the songs, I prayed that somehow, something would be revealed to me – that I wouldn’t go through another Easter season with this numb restless feeling that plagues me so often. Almost against my will, I stood up and entered the stations of the cross.
I read the pages describing the stages of Christ’s death, and I tried to imagine the pain and agony he suffered. But WHY? Why did God have to forsake him? Why did he have to go through that to “reconcile us” to God?
I felt an angry knot form in my stomach. Why didn’t this make sense to me? Why is faith so easy for other people but not for me?
Somewhere along the line – I think it was the station that describes the nails in his hands and the sword thrust into his side – the story of Jesus’ death started to intermingle with the story of my father’s death. I’ve been thinking about that again recently, because my mom got a phone call from an emergency room nurse who was with him when he died. My dad died a brutal death – run over by the tractor and baler he’d just been driving. Passers-by saw it happen and stopped to try to help him. The emergency nurse was one of them.
I never saw my dad’s injuries (he’d been prepared by the undertaker by the time I saw him) but apparently he’d had some serious internal injuries as well as a deep gash in his side. Imagining that gash in his side brought the image of Jesus to mind.
I think Dad died fairly quickly, though the nurse told mom that there was still a faint heartbeat by the time they got him to the hospital. We now know a couple of things – the first people who stopped asked him if he was okay, and in his understated way said “I don’t think so”; and he must have stood up at least for a short time after the machinery crushed him because the blood flowed down his legs.
I have gone through that scene many times in my mind. I envision him lying in the ditch trying to comprehend what was going on. I imagine the excruciating pain he must have felt. I envision him speaking to those people and probably thinking “oh I don’t want to be too much trouble for you”. But most of all, I imagine how lonely he probably felt as he drew his last breaths. If he had any thoughts at all (and who knows really, since he was probably in shock), he was probably thinking “oh if I could at least speak to my wife or see my kids and grandkids. If only I had them to hold my hand right now. Maybe then things would be alright.” I can even imagine Dad crying out “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?”
By what I can only describe as God’s grace, though, Dad did not die entirely alone. The first people who stopped – the people who’d watched the baler roll over him – were a pastor and a nurse. The next person was the emergency room nurse who phoned mom recently. The pastor prayed with Dad until they loaded him into the ambulance, and the nurses administered CPR. It has always given our family a great deal of comfort knowing that they did what they could and that Dad was not alone. His faith was always a great source of comfort for him and that pastor’s prayers must have been a form of solace as he passed on from this life.
As all of this circulated through my mind this afternoon, I envisioned Jesus hanging up there on that cross. While he died, no-one administered CPR. Nobody held his hand and prayed for him. No ambulance arrived. Everyone had abandoned him, including his closest friends. After brutally slamming nails into his hands and slashing his side, the soldiers taunted him and called him names. While he breathed his last breaths, they gambled over his clothes.
Can you imagine feeling so abandoned? I have felt lonely before, and sometimes even abandoned by friends or family, but never in my time of greatest need. Whenever I have been hurt – physically or emotionally – someone has always showed up to offer comfort. I just can’t fathom the agony of crying out to your own father while you die “why have you forsaken me?”
As I completed the stations of the cross, I found myself weeping. No, I hadn’t come much closer to understanding why it was all necessary, but I realized that – regardless of my questions – I was still committed to this difficult story at the centre of my faith.
This much I know – if Jesus could suffer through all of that, and then forgive those soldiers who taunted him and the “friends” who abandoned him, then there’s something about him that intrigues me enough to keep me coming back.