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.
* * * * *
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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There’s a piece of my story in this unfolding year that I have had a hard time writing about. I still don’t know quite what to say, but I also don’t want to pretend that it’s not going on or that I’m trying to keep it a secret.
This summer, my twenty-two year marriage unraveled and my husband and I are now separated.
That’s the simple version. The more complex version is the part that’s difficult to talk about, because it is not my story alone and I am determined never to write anything that might hurt anyone I care about. My husband, my daughters and I are all fumbling our way through this, trying not to hurt each other, trying to heal from past wounds, and trying to emerge stronger and wiser.
I share it, though, because sometimes people turn to me for expertise on what it means to hold space for people, and I don’t want to pretend that I have figured out everything there is to know about keeping relationships healthy. Like you, I falter sometimes, and I fail people, and I make decisions that might be hard for people to understand. I am still very much on a learning journey.
Early this year, after I wrote the post that went viral, about what it means to hold space for other people, what became more and more clear to me was something I’d woken up to about five years earlier. My husband and I no longer knew how to hold space for each other. We’ve tried and tried, but repeatedly we’ve failed. For my part, I spent too much time judging him and thinking I needed to rescue or fix him, and for his part, he no longer understood me and had no idea how to support the kind of work I was doing or the changes I was undergoing as a result.
For a long time, I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter that we were in such different places – that I was in this marriage for the long haul and that my daughters were better off with us together – but I could only fool myself for so long. We were hurting each other in our failure, and, after repeated attempts at marriage counselling, it finally became clear to me that we were not doing our daughters any favours by staying in this broken place.
There is much that remains unresolved in this story and I continue to learn from it as I navigate this new path. I stumble sometimes, and then I fall into grace and am given a hand up to get back up on my feet again.
And that is where I will leave this story, in an unresolved place where there is still healing to be done and forgiveness to be offered. I am learning, despite much impatience and struggle, to stay in the unresolved places until what’s meant to emerge can find its own way and time to unfold.
When we see brokenness, our tendency (based in a childish desire for the world to be clean and orderly, black and white) is to rush in to fix it, to find a solution, and to put it back the way it once was. But the invitation of a deepening spirituality is to allow it to remain unresolved, to ask ourselves why we are uncomfortable with it being unresolved, and to consider that perhaps something new wants to grow in its own sweet time without the limitations of “the way things used to be”.
As a writer and teacher, I feel pressure sometimes, on my blog and on social media, to only share a story when it has a complete ending. If I share it when it is still in the unresolved stage, too many people will rush in with advice, solutions, or judgement, responding to their own need to see it fixed in a way that makes sense to them, and then I will feel defeated, inadequate, and not fully heard.
What I most value (and this is why I spend so much time in circles) is to be heard, to be valued, and to be supported in whatever stage of the messiness I am in. This, I believe, is what all of us truly want. Because the best path out of the messiness is rarely the quick fix that first rushes to mind.
I invite you then, to pause for a moment before you respond to my unresolved story or anyone else’s. In your pausing, listen first for what that person most wants from you. And then listen for what is unresolved in your own life that might make someone else’s messy story feel uncomfortable. Because when we sit in the messiness together, we grow truly beautiful and lasting things. That’s what it means to hold space for each other.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rilke
Thank you for holding space for me in my unresolved place.
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19 years of marriage
4 babies born
3 thriving daughters
1 stillborn son
5 major career changes
4 reductions in income
2 university degrees
60 business trips
100 soccer games
11 school Christmas concerts
7000 meals shared
2 fathers buried
2 grandmothers buried
3 cancer scares for close family
25 trips to emergency
2 summers spent in a trailer by the lake
20 tent-camping trips
1 near fatality in a tent fire
2 suicide attempts
10 marriage counseling sessions
100 reasons why this marriage should end
101 reasons why we should keep trying
2 broken people who said “for better or for worse”
1 imperfectly beautiful marriage
Some days you wake up and you realize.
You’ve gotten lost in the mire of too many petty arguments.
Too many “why didn’t you wipe the counter?”
Too much “when are you EVER going to fix the couch?”
Too often focusing on the reasons why he annoys you.
Too few moments when you say “thank you” and mean it.
Worn out, you whisper a little prayer.
“Please god. Help me to remember why I love him.”
But you don’t expect the answer.
Because the next morning it’s the same.
And soon it feels like the only words that come out of either of your mouths
Are words most meant to hurt. To pay back.
You try to remember the words you were taught to say
At that long ago marriage retreat.
“You are not my enemy.”
But they get stuck in your throat.
And then one day
You’re sitting by a waterfall.
You lift your eyes from your book
And you see him climbing off a rock.
Abandoning his fishing rod.
Wading through icy water.
Pausing to help a stranger untangle her fishing line.
You can’t help yourself.
Your eyes fill with tears.
Because you remember.
This is why you let him into your heart.
This is why you said “I do” fifteen years ago.
This is why you decided the risk of “forever” was worth it.
This easy kindness to strangers.
This interest in other people’s lives.
This belief in the value of other people’s stories.
This willingness to pause for the untangling.
The same effortless friendliness
That makes waitresses feel special
And lost boys from single-parent homes remember that they have some value.
And more than that
That when this same kindness, this same interest,
This same willingness
Is extended to you
Too often you turn it away, reject it
Or stubbornly misinterpret it
Because it wasn’t spoken in the language you thought you needed.
And though you know that someday
You’ll get caught in the mire again
You will remember
And say thank you.
Happy (belated) anniversary, buddy.
Thanks for a lovely weekend.
You want to see what Marcel and I looked like, fourteen years ago when we said “I do”? We looked like most newlyweds look – young and hopeful. Little did we know what kind of sometimes wild, sometimes rocky, sometimes ecstatic, sometimes painful, sometimes boring, sometimes peaceful, and sometimes agonizing ride we’d have in the upcoming years. Little did we know that we’d conceive 5 children and get to raise only three of them. Little did we know that we’d say good-bye to some really special people in our lives. Little did we know that we’d get through unbelievable trauma when Marcel’s life almost ended. Little did we know that he’d have to watch me slip into a strange and eery psychosis while pregnant with the son we’d lose. Little did we know how lucky we’d be to still love each other and still find lots of things to talk about fourteen years later.If I look slightly terrified in this next picture, it’s because I was. This was the moment I dreaded most out of the whole day – our first dance. Not that I didn’t want to dance with my new husband, but I come from good ol’ Mennonite “dancing-is-for-heathens-and-besides-we-have-no-rhythm-anyway” stock and Marcel comes from good solid French Catholic “we-came-out-of-the-womb-dancing-the-Red-River-Jig” stock. I was almost positive I’d trip over his feet in front of all of our friends and family. Fortunately, my fear was ill-founded – I managed to stay upright. But he’s had to put up with my clumsiness ever since.
I sewed my own wedding dress, and the one flaw in the design was that it showed off a little too much cleavage. My sister’s bouquet came in handy when I needed to look more “virtuous”.My how times have changed! Two of these people (below) are now bloggers (my sister ccap is beside me, and my friend Whippersnapper is next to her), two of these people (other than us) are now married to each other (Marcel’s brother on his left and my sister on my right) though they were far from considering it at that time, one of these people is divorced and remarried, one of these people I have lost touch with (my third bridesmaid, who was my “Little Sister” at the time – through Big Sister’s Association), and most of these people now have children or stepchildren.
The changes don’t end there. Since that day, we’ve had to say some painful good-byes to some of the special people who celebrated the day with us. Looking through the wedding pictures brought back alot of memories, good and bad. Here are some of the people who’ve left us since then…
My Grandma, who was an inspiration to me, doing bold and wonderful things long after life would have slowed down a lesser woman. She traveled to Africa after she’d turned eighty.
One of the most important people in Marcel’s life – his dear Mémère. She was an incredible woman who believed in people even when they didn’t believe in themselves. There were things Marcel confided in her that I don’t think he’d ever have told anyone else. When I was trying to be a writer, she made a special effort to come to one of my plays, even though it was in a grungy little downtown theatre. She bought me my first brand new sewing machine (that I still use) because she knew I liked to sew.Our crazy friend Brad, who loved to laugh and make people laugh. He lived life on the edge and died the same way. And of course, my dad. He died the day after our tenth anniversary. Celebrating our anniversary always has a bittersweet feeling to it, because the next day is an anniversary of a very different sort. I still miss him with a powerful ache. This picture, taken at the cemetery next to the cathedral where we had our wedding pictures taken, seems a rather eery premonition. It’s been four years now, and I still don’t feel like I’m finished saying good-bye to him.
It’s been a full and mostly good life these 14 years. Sometimes, you can’t help but ask yourself – if you could foresee all the pain that the journey will take you through, would you still go? Today, my answer is yes. I can’t imagine this journey without my best friend by my side. He cried with me through the loss of our children, he held me up off the floor when my knees buckled when the phone call came about my dad, I held him close when Mémère slipped away, we grinned at each other when our beautiful daughters came into this world – I wouldn’t want it any other way.
We all know it’s not always easy being married, but for all those times I’ve felt less lonely and less frightened, it’s worth the effort.