I turned 56 yesterday. It was an amazing birthday, full of joyful community, worship, excellent conversation, and carrot cake. I couldn't ask for better.
Still, birthdays always make me reflective. Today, even though it's been a back-to-the-routine workday, has been a much more reflective day with lots of memories.
Seems like it's a good opportunity to trot out things like grief and heartbreak and longing and make sure I'm dealing straight up with them. Those three especially can twist your mind around in terrible ways if you're not living honestly with them. I firmly believe it's a good idea to take stock of one's heart in those departments at last a few times a year.
Grief is cumulative, I think. We never really get over it. Every grief taps into every other, and our only hope is to learn to grieve well, to grieve in a healthy way. The losses, small and large, pile on top of one another and they need to be acknowledged. They certainly can't be controlled. Looking grief in the face, however, allows one to step into the present rather than being trapped in the past.
Heartbreak and grief are related, but they're not the same. Heartbreak is about what could have been but was not. It's related to grief, and grief is certainly a part of it. I've always been enough of a dreamer to think things should be different, and that can trap me in a terrible corner. Dealing with heartbreak is about looking reality in the face and saying as much as things should have been different, they weren't. Take a deep breath and turn toward the way things are and the way things might be in the future. Let the past be broken, and release it. As a very wise friend once told me, "You have to let the past take its rightful place in the past."
Longing is potentially the most damaging of the three. Longing can steal the power of the present and the hope of the future. Longing is the lie that prevents anything good in the here and now. It's a fine line, because knowing your own heart can help you figure out where God is calling you. Psalm 37 says that those desires of your heart are, at least potentially, God-given. I know it's possible to long for things that are far from God, and I've fallen into that trap. But often at the core of even those longings, there is a God-given yearning for something good.
Transitioning into my late 50's, I'm learning to sit with grief, to let it be a companion, if not a welcome one. This week a man I've known since childhood, a tender, brilliant, articulate man, was laid to rest in my hometown. I grieve for him and all those who feel his loss most deeply. And that grief taps into the grief I carry for so many others, for grandparents and parents and a sister-in-law and friends and mentors and many, many more.
I hope I'm also learning to let heartbreak temper me rather than shatter me. It's easy to create a fantasy land in which all those old wounds go away and none of my heartbreaks ever happened. But that's not reality. I have received, and given, many deep wounds. It's important to hold them honestly before God and in my own mind.
When I can do that, when I can live in repentance before God and receive his grace and mercy in the midst of those things, I find that my longings begin to be transformed. I find deep down in the core of my longings a thread of things I've always wanted but couldn't name. And I look around and discover that God has begun to meet those longings and satisfy them in the most amazing ways. The process of God meeting those longings, it turns out, is far more important than the desires themselves.
So in practical terms, it's three weeks today since the doctors opened me up and installed a new right hip. I'm incredibly grateful for the family and friends that have nursed and nurtured me so well. I'm healing faster than I have any right to expect. Prayer has a lot to do with that.
The day before I came home from the Cities after surgery, a horse came to live at my 40-acre farm. He and I have been adjusting to each other, and my heart just sings to have him living here. I'm so excited. All the preparation that's gone into revamping my barn and fixing my fences is now bearing good fruit. And just the last couple days, the grass has started greening up in the pasture and he's excited about that, as I am.
As I write this, six deer are grazing over my septic drainfield and enjoying the new growth on the hill below my house. Their presence is such a gift, and I always take it as a reminder (a la Psalm 42, among others) of God's presence. I can breathe in this place, and God has so richly blessed me by bringing me here. It is a gift indeed, and maybe that's why it's called "the present." It's a good place to live.