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 big 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.
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