When It Hurts to Heal

It's the first week of June when I'm out watering the Memorial Tree and my heart just about splits open with joy.  There among the newborn leaves of late spring, I see it clear--tiny clusters of buds just beginning to form.

It's been nearly 5 years since I planted a tree in my grieving, and truth be told, I didn't even know it was supposed to bloom.  I chose this tree for the shape of its leaves and their brilliant, fiery colors in Autumn--who needs flowers on top of all that beauty?

But when I see those first buds growing with abandon, I'm giddy with the surprise of it and I want to shout it out loud that grief's brutal and deep and messier than anything, but it can be beautiful, too.  Yes, a whole life can burn straight to the ground in the wake of what's been lost and God can still grow a tree right out of the ashes.  But God doesn't do anything halfway--He doesn't stop with new life out of death.  He turns it into Beauty and Glory and Grace.  Yes, a whole heap of Grace.

This is what's coursing through me when I see those blooms at their beginning.  But I'm afraid, too.  Afraid they'll shrivel up before they even open.  Afraid that if they open, they'll never mature into a fruit that's meant to last through a whole winter of darkness.

And this fear?  It drives me to do the craziest thing.  I refuse to take a photograph of those beautiful, God-breathed buds.  I refuse to document the grace of this moment because I'm terrified of what's to come.

Oh, yes.  The fear of impending heartache?  It can steal the joy right out of a life if you let it.

Those tiniest of buds, they do open up into yellow-green blossoms, their bright red centers barely peeking out through those curled petals.  But even then, I keep the camera in the house and I keep holding my breath for what's to come.  Because as much as I believe in the God who redeems all the broken bleeding mess of a life, I'm still desperately weary of being the broken bleeding mess.  Yes, I'm more than a little ready for the hard labors of grieving to give rise to an abundant harvest of Hope and Healing and Him.

So I whisper pleading prayers over the Memorial Tree for days.  I beg God to let it bear fruit, let it be a symbol of all the healing that's been and all the healing that's still to come.  And when I see those flowers just beginning to round and redden with new life, I rejoice.

But it's only a matter of days before I know something's not right.  The signs of life fade clean away, dry up into nothing.  And that's when my heart really does split open.

But my heart's not the only thing that's a bit broken.  It's my body, too.  Because it's then that a few weeks of restless nights turns into 3 months of no sleep, and it's as if the bottom's fallen right out of my healing journey.

I stop writing and I stop reading and I stop recording the graces of a good God.  Maybe it's only because I become too weak to stand up or climb the stairs or put thoughts together in any way that makes sense.  But maybe it's also because my heart's a broken bleeding mess and I'm just a little tired of being ripped open again right when I'm beginning to heal.

My doctor keeps the faith and he tells me again and again that we're not getting no where, that the reasons I'm not sleeping might just be the clearest signs of a healing body we've ever seen.  But when you haven't slept for 12 long weeks, there's not much strength left for understanding the hard things.  There's only enough to keep breathing in and out and grabbing hold of every hand that's held out to you.

So that's what I do.  I breath and I hold on and I wait for whatever's coming next.

Because I finally know this deep--being afraid of what's to come, it doesn't just steal joy.  It steals strength, too.  And when you've no longer got enough strength to be afraid, maybe that's when you really start to live again.

It's the first week of September when I sleep through the night for the first time in 3 months.  And I sleep the next night, too.  And the one after that.  And ever so slowly, I find my way back to the healing road and realize that maybe I never left it at all.  Because my doctor's been right all along--my body *is* healing.

It just doesn't always feel like it.

And maybe this is what the year's teaching me more than anything else.  Sometimes it hurts to heal.  Sometimes healing is brutal and deep and messier than anything.  Sometimes healing takes every last bit of courage we've got just to keep on breathing and holding on.

And there may be days, weeks, months when we won't acknowledge those tiny bits of hope and recovery we've seen because we're terrified they won't grow into that big, beautiful Redemption we're so desperately yearning for.  But what if we could just believe that healing doesn't always look the way we thought it would?  What if we could just believe that sometimes healing can be the hardest road of all?  What if we could just believe that when we feel ripped open again, it might just be God rebuilding us from the inside out?

If we could just believe?  Maybe then we'd really start to heal.

I don't know why the Memorial Tree didn't bear fruit this year.  Maybe it was the weather.  Maybe it was the soil.  Maybe it was me.

Or maybe it was only this:  Growing and healing and becoming take time.  They don't happen all at once.  They don't happen the way we expect them to.  But they do happen.

He Who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:6b

As the last days of September slip in, I open up the gratitude journal after 3 months of silence and I begin again to record the graces of a good God.  With the simple act of pen to paper, I say no Fear and I say yes to Joy.  Yes, I welcome Joy back into all the broken places--back to where it belongs.

And ever so slowly, I begin to heal.

To read more about the significance of the Memorial Tree:
When You've Been Reborn and You Want to Say Thanks

How to Give Thanks When a Life's Been Buried

Garden Update:  The Memorial Tree in Spring 


  1. Beautifully written, and well-timed for me to read. <3 Thank you, Courtney!

  2. Praying for you my friend. I have occasionally had a struggle with lack of sleep too. I pray the Lord gives you the grace to receive His work in the middle of your struggle. God bless you my friend! :)

  3. Courtney, I will tell you this again but I have to say it here. This is beautiful. I want to print it out and keep it with me. You are a blessing and you are sooo blessed with words. Thanks for sharing them here so we can grow with you.

  4. @Naomi--I know you are no stranger to the hard road, Friend. I am deeply humbled if any of my words here are shedding a little light along your journey. May our God's provision and compassion surprise and delight you at every turn in the months ahead!

  5. @Daniel--thank you, always, for your prayers. I know the prayers of those around me are the only thing that have carried me through the last few moths and I am so very grateful. I am no stranger to sleepless nights, but this has been far beyond anything I've ever encountered. Even so, I am thankful for all that I am learning through this and for the amazing friends who have supported me on the hard roads. Much grace to you, Friend, today and always.

  6. @Kim--your words are grace to my soul. To know that my halting, fumbling journey to grow in God is helping others grow, too? This is what I want. This is why I fight through all the fears and tell the real story of my life here. Thank you for carrying me all these months with your love and prayers and beautiful heart. I am so privileged to call you Friend.

  7. It's my privilege to call YOU friend. Isn't that the crazy part? We fumble along and somehow the Father uses us to point to His name? It's probably the biggest mystery of all. Love you, friend.

  8. Bless you, child. I'm so sorry for that 3 months of no sleep. I can't imagine how weak you must have been in every way. Your words about healing not looking like we expected remind me of two things: of Martha and Mary at their brother's tomb, and of the words of Paul David Tripp in a message I recently listened to online. He said we think we need the grace of relief, but God often knows we need the grace of refinement. He spoke on the disciples in the storm at sea and how Jesus came to them walking on the water. This was his main theme: Jesus took them where they never intended to go in order to produce in them what they could never achieve on their own. Sometimes we need the storm to see the Glory.

    You will see God's glory, friend. You may not even have to wait until healing for it. He is with you in the sleepless nights and illness. He is just as present and loving in the grief as in the healing. He is with you; He is with you; He is with you.

    Press on, dear Courtney. Don't give up. Your story has a happy ending.

    All the grace and peace you need today be yours in Christ Jesus.

  9. @tinuviel--Oh, Friend. Your words are sweet water to a thirsty soul. He is with me. Yes. It's been a hard, hard road and I am weary. But God has carried me through the days when I could not even stand, the days when I didn't think I could survive one. more. day. without rest. And how could I have truly known the grace of a single night's sleep if I had not lived so many months without it? I am grateful for the grace and mercy of everyday life. I am grateful for the friendship and prayers of dear ones like you. I am grateful for every tiny bit of healing, inside and out. And I am grateful that, as you say, all our stories have a happy ending in Him. Yes! Praise Him!

  10. Courtney,
    Our mutual friend, Kim Fernando, sent me over and I'm so glad she did. I love this post, and I'm resonating with and learning a lot of the same things right now.
    Excited to get to know you better this way!

  11. @Bernadette--my dear friend, I somehow missed this comment when it was posted and I am so sorry for that. I owe you an email. Or two. Or five. But mostly I just love you to pieces and wish I could sit with you and share a warm cup of tea. Yes. You and me both, trying to figure out how the healing can be this messy-hard, gut-wrenching thing. You are teaching me about this, too, and I am grateful. Praying for us all to find the strength to press on through these days and find God's goodness right here in the midst. Love to you tonight.

  12. @Cara: Lovely to meet you, New Friend! Kim has been a huge blessing to me this year, so I'm thrilled to share the road with another kindred spirit. Thank you, more than words can say, for taking the time to read my offering here. I am not able to write as often as I used to, or as often as I aspire to, but I have hope that that will not always be the case. Grace to you, Cara, on whatever road you are walking today.

  13. Kim has been a wonderful friend to me as well. I really do love your words here. I hope that you'll be able to rise to what you hope for when the time is right.
    And thank you so much, if there is anything I need heaping over me, it's grace.


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