I sit in a seemingly hip coffee shop with burned calves and shins and thighs because I spent all of yesterday and too much of today laying basically naked under the California sun. The dress I am wearing stops just above my knees when I am standing, so you can imagine the burn I feel any time I move my stuck-skin around on the metal chair to readjust into a new uncomfortable seated position.
I’m nestled in the foothills of Irvine or maybe it’s Forest something, I am not totally sure because I don’t really care about my exact whereabouts. Using the word nestled makes me feel like I am creative and dramatic and artsy.
I have been gone from my toddler boys since Tuesday morning and I miss them something fierce. It’s silly to me that I have waken (woken? woke up? wake up? I need an editor) every single night here, without fail, between midnight and three am to look for their little warm bodies to snuggle. Only to remember this giant king-sized bed is all for me, myself, and I.
I’ve had approximately under five human-to-human interactions it seems, in the last few days. They’ve consisted of way too talkative Lyft drivers, the barista dude here at this shop, and the Mod pizza maker who decided to give me his employee discount last night. He seemed like maybe he was about eight years younger than me, and instead of letting him know that I am not only way older than him and also a mom to what seems like lots of kids, I smiled and thanked him for the discount and declined his offer to hang after I am done eating my entire pizza by myself in one sitting.
Originally this week was supposed to be spent in Anaheim with one of my best friends, Brianna, and her family…along with my nine year old daughter (A) who I am convinced is something of a soul-child if there ever was such a thing…and my other friend Kristine and her son. My instagram community helped send A (a girl I mothered for over a year through foster care) to Disneyland and I didn’t end up getting to go which will forever be a loss we both carry.
Because Kristine and I purchased companion flights, I couldn’t refund or reroute my trip, so I decided to just come down here and hope for a place to lay my head. I attempted to book some photoshoots and had four potentials lined up, all of which fell through.
Monday evening I laid on my bedroom floor’s white rug in a pile of pathetic-feeling-pity and stared at the empty suitcase that was originally my friend Kat’s. How was I supposed to pack for a trip I didn’t even have plans for? What kinds of things do I take to wear? What will I even do on this trip? Was this a mistake? Should I just not go? That’s a lot of days in a row without Sage and Ira. How will I survive this grief?
When I looked ahead at the Californian days in front of me, they were so empty and ready to swallow me up whole.
I was sure that all the space the coming days held might kill me because I would have to sit in all of my pain.
But I went.
I went because I spent the money on this ticket and I knew that physical space from everything the last year has held in Portland would be …good? I don’t know the word. I went because I believe more of us need to just go, to breathe, to take space…and so few of us do. I went because I had books I could read, journals I could write in, life I needed to process, pain demanding to be felt.
The only way to heal the pain is to first feel it, and I knew all the space would provide that for me. I was lucky and blessed and all those words people use in regards to all the luxuries we have in this American life, and I knew I needed to get on that plane and go let my heart be undistractedly broken.
Tuesday was spent on the plane, in the airport, and then familiarizing myself with the area I was staying in. I went on a two mile jog, lifted a few weights as though I do it regularly, finished two books, ate tacos, drank hard cider. Darkness fell and I filled my bath tub up.
I don’t actually like baths, the water is weird and kinda gross and also my body runs hot as it is, so sitting in gross hot water just to sweat into the water isn’t my favorite.
But I did it anyways because it’s on the bottom of these ceramic tubs I find myself sitting in worlds of pain waiting to be cried out. I didn’t have my phone or a book, I just had my mind inside my head and my broken heart.
I wasn’t prepared for the grief that entered that tub with me, but I didn’t prepare myself for anything except to just be.
My brain kept telling me to get out of the tub, to distract myself with my phone or New Girl or read another book. But my body felt stuck in that tub, needing to just sit in all the sadness.
I was paralyzed by grief and my thoughts were trying to fight it until I told my mind to just stop and let the grief exist. Resisting pain is more exhausting than the pain itself, and we are such pros at resisting pain and feeling.
As I laid in bed and posted this photo on my instagram account, I thought about how years ago I probably would have unfollowed me. First, because how dare a Christian post a photo where I can see so much skin? How scandalous. Second, because the words I ended up sharing were so raw, so vulnerable, so dark…how could they possibly be considered appropriate as a Christian writer? Pain is uncomfortable.
Here is what I shared:
Raw. Vulnerable. Naked. Grieving. Mourning. Surviving.
I was doing pretty okay today, sorrow settled in my soul yes, but okay. Chest pains from being in CA, so close but so far from the girl who holds my heart, sure, but doing ok.
I went on a jog. I bought tooth paste. I did a little facial. I had a phone chat. I went to the hotel gym. I read 3 different books. I laid in the sun. I even *laughed* today.
Darkness fell. I filled this tub, tossed in a bath bomb; I steeped in heated water and felt the fire.
It’s all so much.
Miscarriages. Divorce. Broken family relationships. Disrupted adoption. Unnecessary removals & decertification thru foster care. No contact with A + I. Restricted access to my permanent children (this is no more & never should have been; PTL they were w LB). The losses have stacked + compounded and I sat in this tub feeling the weight trying to crush me.
This last year has been the darkest night — season? — of my soul. It feels long & misunderstood. Quite lonely + quite mine. It’s been months of dark nights, dark days. The losses are insurmountable, irrevocable. The grief can be all consuming — not always or only, though. I have great joy + deep gratitude too. Yet the sorrow has moved in to settle right into my soul.
A great emptiness opened up where I had stored all the things I thought I knew, & yet. And yet what remains when everything else has been stripped is more real than anything I could have imagined: I am not apart from Him; I am part of Him, or in Him. There is no place else I want to be.
I’m finding that His divine absence + presence exist with and within each other. He is both absent + present.
”The soul does not grow by addition, but by subtractions.”
We are so good at shoving away, stuffing, the human experiences of grief.
We aren’t allowed to be angry or disappointed or sad, and if we allow those things, then we are weak. We have little faith. We are not looking to the light.
But I keep finding that He is closest in the lonely, darkened valleys. He is most real and most vivid and most intimate when I have nothing except my raw, broken personhood. Denying my personhood and all the complexities that makes up me is denying Him, because He made me in His actual image.
I am learning to be unapologetic in my me-ness and unashamed too. He made me in His image, so why would I be ashamed of the ways I am at my core?
I stayed in bed until noon the next day; under the covers with the blinds shut, no music or shows or books, just laying in bed. A friend facetimed me which helped me roll out of my bed, shower, and sit outside.
Thursday my brother encouraged me to go to the beach. I woke up at 7 am and took a $30 Lyft to Laguna Beach and then to Huntington. I laid in the sun and felt the sand under my toes, and then my whole body, and listened to the ocean tides rush back and forth. Isn’t there something so healing about the ocean?
Recently someone I love emailed me letting me know they hope the “happy girl Natalie her family loves so much returns soon.” Or something to that extent.
I know these words came from love and good intention and all the kindness and again, love. But I just stared at them and wondered if my family could also love a depressed, grieving, mourning Natalie. What if Natalie is more than just a happy girl? What if Natalie is complex and complicated and real and not afraid to feel all the things coming at her? What if Natalie is not ashamed of all of the ways she experiences life?
Grief doesn’t need to be so taboo. We make it out to be this thing that makes us less, makes us weak, makes us lousy. We perpetuate shame when other people are in the thick of grief, and we simply don’t know how to respond because we haven’t allowed ourselves to go into those spaces.
But time and time again I find it is in my grief that I find beauty. And the beauty isn’t the pain-free, explosive-happiness people seem to be pursuing…the beauty is that there is still hope for a new tomorrow. And maybe that “new tomorrow” isn’t until heaven, but either way, there is hope for fullness of healing one day.
The beauty is that He is with me in all of the muck and mire. The beauty is that I am complex and can experience both sorrow and joy, loss and hope, being okay with not being okay, all at the same time. The beauty is that there are wildflowers growing through chain link fences and through the cracks of cement. The beauty is that the sun still rises and the sun still sets and it is so gorgeous in all of its painted glory…reminding me how small and yet how Beloved I still am, despite all of life’s great disappointments.
I keep getting messages and emails from people saying how strong I am, how inspiring I am, and all these really sweet and encouraging things. But the thing about me is that I don’t feel strong by any measure — except for the fact I woke up and decided to run 4 miles today and DID. Aside from that situation, I feel less than “strong.” Here is proof for that, because I am proud of myself and decided after this morning’s run to sign up for a half marathon which is in approximately less than one month:
The idea that I am strong because I keep leaning into Him is interesting to me, because I lean more into Him solely because of how weakened I am. How wrecked. How shattered. How broken and torn apart I am. As every thing dear to me is stripped from me, I turn more and more to Him because He promises to never leave me, and I believe Him. He hasn’t failed me yet.
Two Sundays ago I was laying on my actual face and knees on the concrete floor of the cafeteria we turn into a sanctuary…sobbing through Do It Again…and my friend Jillana came over so I wept into her lap.
She said, “I know it feels like He isn’t here…where is He?” But the reality for me in those raw-to-my-core moments was that I knew He was there. I felt Him there. I knew that I knew that I knew He was there with me, and I was so grateful to not be forsaken in the depths of my suffering. I was so grateful that though every dear treasure had been stripped from me in those moments and that weekend…He was still with me.
I still don’t believe He causes suffering. But I do believe He can work through it.
I also will forever be an advocate for grief, for feeling, for walking through pain because there is no other way to heal or become whole.
And if we are not pursuing wholeness and healing…then we are only halfway living.
What kind of life is that?
Side note: part of my journey is learning to love my body.
I am physically strong and healthy for the most part. I bruise easily because I am iron deficient, I have endometriosis which is a helluva thing, and my blood clotting disorders are annoying. But I can walk for hours, run for miles, and carry 35+ pound toddlers throughout my day.
My stomach is scarred with marks, stretched and jiggly, the muscles buried beneath layers of loose skin. My belly button is weird and I don’t even know how to describe what is happening with it.
I have dimples and cellulite on my butt + thighs and I don’t understand why because I drink a lot of water and have a lot of muscle and I am not overweight. My boobs are my least favorite part of my body…because I went from a B cup to a DDD cup in less than a year to feed two baby boys for 17 months and then they deflated and resemble spread out, stretched out, saggy, pancake like sacks of emptiness. Moms who breastfed…or women in their sixties… you know what I am saying, right?
I want to love this body.
This body has conceived three babies and carried one to term; it sustained TWO lives through breastfeeding, one of which I didn’t even birth. This body has run half marathons and up to 24 miles (in an actual row of miles…like 24 miles straight…I am impressed enough for all of us). This body has hiked mountains, made it through nearly a dozen surgeries, biked thousands of miles, and traveled the world.
And yet, because of fat phobia and standardized beauty and pornographic society…I still feel insecure in this body.
I still panic when I think someone might have seen one of the countless dimples. I still cover up when I feel like I am being looked at.
I still struggle to wear a two piece or crop tops, but I keep doing it because I want to be able to look in the mirror at myself and not be afraid. I do think I am beautiful, but there are still so many lies I am constantly combatting.
I am more than a body.
This body has been through so. much. trauma.
It carries grief and trauma and pain and sorrow and….things I would wish on no one.
But this body is strong, and dammit, I will see it as beautiful.
Grief doesn’t have to be so taboo. Neither do our bodies.