“There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
It’s really easy to get stuck in the idea that life is just an amalgamation of events and people and interactions that are happenstance, and if I ever really believed in happenstance, well, I guess I stopped on the second week of July of this past summer.
“I’m moving out. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where to go.”
My friend Sarah and her husband had gone out of town for the 4th of July, and this was the first time she had admitted out loud to me, and not just with her eyes, that her marriage was over.=
“Well,” I explained, “You’re going to come live with me as long as you need to.”
It is not a secret that I tend to be impulsive, and this does cause a good bit of concern. See: the time I went from “Maybe I’ll get a dog before Christmas” to driving home from Columbia the next day with two four-month-old shepadoodle puppies before I had even gone to Petsmart to get, you know, food and stuff. I get it. People raise these concerns to me and I have to explain to them that I have a heart condition. “Your heart is bigger than your brain,” my mother explained to me once. Even so, the concern is still there, even with the people who understand this condition.
About three days into mine and Sarah’s roommateship, I was sitting in Ruben’s living room with him and Coll. Those two humans know my heart pretty well, and still, the concerns abounded.
“Are you sure you’re thinking this through? Are you sure you’re ready for this? Liam will be with you some nights; are you sure you can handle living with a toddler?” And I was silent, thinking, for a good few minutes.
Back in May, I had gone out to a wine bar with some friends after a Tuesday night Junior League meeting. Ruben picked me up after and I stayed downtown, because safety first, and I went to work the next morning in the pink dress and Donald J. Pliner heels I had worn the night before, which is probably the nicest outfit anyone has ever proctored an AP exam in before. I sat in that room, contemplating my life: Was I sure it was a good idea to follow my crazy dreams? To leave this job? To go back to school, to go into more debt, to up and move across town, to go into a more nebulous career field? Surely it would be more prudent to stay put, in all aspects. To put the dreams down. I was terrified, sitting in the pink dress and heels, in complete silence. And then, a voice spoke to me. I am sure it was God. I am sure of it. You can challenge me on this, if you would like, and I will say, “Thank you for sharing.” The voice was more of a presence, and it came to me in that room and put its hand on my arm in the most comforting manner possible and said, “Don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t worry.” God said that. Three times. I looked at the clock. It was 9:07am on May 12th. Ever since then, worry has not entered my mind.
All I needed on that couch in Ruben’s living room was a minute to remember what God had told me, and I said, “No. I’m not sure, but I’m going to do it anyway.” Ruben and Coll exchanged a concerned glance. I wasn’t sure. I wish I could say that I was sure, but I had no real certainty that this was at all a safe idea, but I also wasn’t worried, because God put His hand on my arm and told me not to worry. Three times.
I went home that night and got ready to leave for a writing conference in North Carolina, and Sarah did my eye makeup before I hit the road. “I need you to start thinking about what you need in this season,” I told her as she worked on my smoky eye. She said she didn’t know. She didn’t have a list of needs because she didn’t really have expectations—only fears. So much in her life was unknown in that moment, in my bathroom, with the eyeshadow.
“Okay,” I said. “Well, let’s just promise to create an environment where we always feel safe to express our needs when they come up.”
Things got hard some days. I have never felt more unequipped for but also unswervingly called to a situation in my life, but that does not mean that I could do it on my own or without difficulty. I called Ruben when the court papers came and told him I was on my way to pick him up. “Please come talk to her with me. I need you to explain what a custody battle is going to be like. I need you to tell her what to expect. I need you to tell her what could happen, because I have no idea, and she needs answers, and I have no answers for her today.”
The men started flocking to her. I mean, flocking. Friends from high school, guys from the community, guys not from the community, in droves. Sarah is a radiant being, but at the time and to a lesser degree now, a wounded bird taking a break from flight. And, to be frank, I didn’t trust a single one of these men with her healing process. None of them were worthy of holding such a fragile heart, of nurturing her soul and voice and spirit in any of the ways those things needed nurturing. They were capable of filling a temporary void, and they each did that, until their presence trickled away the next day, transient, just passing through, but leaving immense damage in their wake.
She sat on her bed weeping one afternoon. “I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you,” she told me. My heart cracked. I sat on another bed some time later and a mutual friend asked me if I felt guilty for not keeping her out of harm’s way. I said I felt at peace that our Creator would keep her from lasting damage that would cripple her. Sarah is the most resilient person I know, and something I learned a long time ago is that you cannot vet people around the lessons they need to learn. If real actualization is going to occur, it has to happen to someone; I could not do it for her. I had, and still have, every confidence in her abilities.
I did not have every confidence in the world’s ability to carry her, so I began to pray. Harder. Before I went to bed every night, she and I would check in with each other and as soon as she went to her room I would begin to pray. I prayed that God would be a hedge of protection around her. I prayed that every day since the 4th of July phone call, but these days I would pepper it with additives like “or else” or “and I mean it this time” because I meant business. If I couldn’t stop the world from being cruel to her, I could at least ask God to be a shield around her.
I was always very specific in my prayers for her. I never told her this because I didn’t think they were prayers she would like because I never asked God to spare her from pain; I asked Him to grow her heart and make her stronger. These prayers were things like “If something is going to hurt her, make it beautiful on the other side” and “Show her how to look at pain as a teacher” and “Give me your entire reserve of grace and patience so I can be a safe harbor for her” and “Send people to encourage her to offset the ones who are hurting her” – and then she’d come home every day with stories of strangers at Chuy’s who came up to her and told her she was doing a good job, and that being a single mom must be hard, and to keep going, so I knew the hard prayers were working.
We moved out of Barbie Dream House in late August and into our new abode, which we lovingly dubbed Thugz Mansion.
She started singing again. I’d play worship music around the house, and she would sing. I hadn’t heard her sing in so long. Her voice is hauntingly beautiful, so soothing and melodic, stronger now than it was before, singing words of worship with more assurance than ever before when some perhaps expected it to break.
She has been through deep pain and trauma and betrayal in her lifetime and has sifted through wreckage and walked away with unshakeable trust in God when it would have made so much sense for her to call bullshit on the whole thing, empirically speaking. Most of our talks before bed revolved around our utter awe that God sent us to each other – how he knew how much we would need each other in the current season of our lives. So let down by people and the followers of Christ, as the church can tend to shoot its wounded, but still irrevocably convinced in the goodness of God and the integrity of His promises and the unrelenting power and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
We have wrestled with God. We have gone past the barricades and gotten up close and personal and looked him in the eye and said, “Are you SURE you still love me, after everything I have done? Do you PROMISE that you are still good after all of the horrible things that have passed through my life?” And He has said back “Yes. I am sure. Yes. I promise.” My favorite thing about Sarah is not only that she reminds me that God is good and up there and worth believing, but also that He can stand our tests. He uses her to shape me in the best ways. She tells me when I am drifting from my true self, from my ability to be present and intentional. “You are the best human representation of Christ I can think of,” she said to me today, and I said, “Only because you bring it out in me.”
We got in our first real argument today. It was about fostering a dog from the Humane Society. I thought it was a brilliant idea instantly, as I do, without running through any of the ramifications or responsibilities. She gave me a reality check, as she does, and I pouted. Once we dropped the small talk, which is so not our style, it came out that what was actually going on was that we were unhappy. We were unhappy, because we had voids in our lives that we had been trying to fill with boys and compliments and attention and other things that may feel good in the moment but end up taking more than they give. We figured out that our voids were pretty vast, and that we knew the only way to fill them would be with truth and love and Jesus, who we love deeply and who loves us back more than the mountains and birds and all the other things God made. We sat in our living room and decided to speak more love in this house and talk to fewer boys in bars. We decided to have more meals at home alone, just us, no phones, where I would point out beautiful things in her life that she couldn’t see and she would do the same for me. We decided we’d shoot for more substantial interactions with other humans and stop settling for cheap thrills.
I held her while she cried, and then I started to cry. I told her every word I wish someone had said to me when I was walking through my own wilderness, but now that I think about it, when am I not?
“I love you. I’m here. I will protect you, fiercely. When you can’t take another step, I will sit down with you. If you need to keep going and can’t, I will carry you. I promise that I am going to disappoint you some days, which is why I need you to hang onto Jesus, because He will never disappoint us.”
Don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t worry.