Was 2018 heavy? I feel like I spent about twelve months of exhausting trudging, eyes to the ground, trying to find my next step.
My son, who served in the 82nd Airborne often talks about “rucking” — a long march, 15-20 miles or more, with a heavy pack of gear strapped on your back.
The soldier carries necessities — provisions, weapons, extra socks, and the like — on his back and moves forward. The more he does this, the better he gets at it — the longer he can go, the more he can carry. Soldiers practice rucking, of course, so that when they have to go on a mission, they have the strength and endurance they need to endure.
Now I have used the metaphor of the solider many times in this blog to describe a lifestyle that I used to live that was characterized by butt-kicking and name-taking. This year was not that kind of soldiering. No, that old lifestyle was built on the premise that I had the strength within myself to accomplish whatever task was put in front of me. It was built on bravado; I believed that by the force of my will I could solve all the problems and complete all the tasks. I’ve learned a lot since then.
Much of my writing over the last four and a half years has been a chronicle of the retraining I’ve undergone to stop living the soldiering lifestyle — I’ve changed physical things like my diet, exercise, healthcare providers, and job, and emotional things like the ways that I speak to and care for myself. Yet, while I have been very intentional about stepping away from soldiering, I am still prone to strapping on that backpack when the going gets tough.
And it does get tough, doesn’t it?
This past year was the toughest yet. And I might’ve gone back to soldiering, if it would’ve done any good, but it wouldn’t have, because 2018 brought the kind of heavy that dispelled any vestiges of that former belief — that bravado — that inner mantra I used to live by that said I could handle anything. The heaviness of 2018 was more than I could carry. I could no longer ruck. I had to admit my powerlessness. I sat down, and I cried. Over and over this year, I cried, and I cried, and I cried.
I grieved most of 2018. I grieved for the losses of many who are dear to me — who themselves lost so much this year — and I grieved for myself — for all the losses I have failed to grieve over the years. Likely the biggest grief of all was realizing that — that I hadn’t felt all the feelings when I should have been feeling them; instead, I had been rucking. I’d been carrying a load of hurt shoved down deep in a bag, when I should have been spreading all the griefs out on a blanket, examining each one and recognizing the weight of each loss.
So, I spent the last several months doing just that. I have examined the contents of that bag. I have spread it all out. I have sorted it with the support of my therapist. I have processed it by writing page after page. I have prayed and prayed and prayed. I have invited others to pray with me. I have spent hours and days and whole weeks talking with my husband — rehearsing forgiveness and grace. And, guys, I think I’m ready to take a break from grief.
For years I’ve worn a small heart charm on a gold chain. The heart has a K on the front and my birthdate on the back. It was a baptism gift from my godparents, and I wear it to remember whose I am. Almost 15 years ago, I added another charm — a butterfly that my mother gave me when I earned my master’s degree. I wear it to remember that I have been transformed. I’m not big on jewelry. In fact, my skin rejects all but the finest of gold, so when my chain broke about a year and half ago, I didn’t get it fixed because we were already in the throes of trauma, and I didn’t have the wherewithal or the resources to deal with it.
But on Christmas morning, as we sat in our living room with three of our four children, and we started to believe that the gray fog of grief was lifting, my husband gave me my repaired gold chain. I’ve put it back on, because I need a physical sign that the season of mourning is over. I need a daily reminder that I am a child of God who has been transformed. The times of refreshing have come.
Certainly 2019 will not be free of trouble. We may be devastated again today or next week or next month, but for now, I am going to acknowledge that we were carried through 2018 not by our own might, but by the Hands of God who saw every tear, heard every prayer, and who, right now, is turning our mourning into hope.
You have turned my mourning into dancing for me;
You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.