The arms on my digital clock curled into a “12.” I stared at the numbers until the blue screen went black, and then I turned the phone over. It was midnight on February first. I let my head fall and closed my eyes. Suddenly an image appeared beneath my eyelids. A gangly face with bloody teeth grimaced, its lips dripping terror. In a particularly ominous tone, its mouth snarled “I’m here.”
Reeling in desperation, I stared at the ceiling and asked God to take away the image. I asked Him for sleep. I must have snoozed easily, because the next thing I remember is waking up in the morning.
Honestly, I would like to say that I bounced out of bed after my Father was faithful to give good rest… but I did not. Since I can recall, I have had difficulty waking up. Yet that morning was acutely different – a heaviness, weary weight in my soul – something that felt more than mental but at least physical – holding me onto the mattress.
But my children needed me to get up, to feed them, to move forward. So I pulled myself to my feet. And I didn’t wonder why this day was so hard. I knew: It was February – that month I dreaded every year. And for the rest of the day it gave me some semblance of peace to remember that the heaviness had a source and would only be temporary.
A few days later, whether it was seeing the pink everywhere or simply discussing that particular Hallmark holiday which befalls us in the second month of every year, I gritted my teeth. Standing with me in the kitchen, my mom said, “what shall we do for Valentine’s Day?” And I said (surprising even myself with the vehemence), “I don’t celebrate that day. I never will. It’s a horrible day because of what happened and I’ll never love it again.” I think she paused, and blinked twice, in a sort of stunned and yet understanding silence. Then slowly, a memory appeared in my mind of hand-decorated boxes and sweet notes from my family. When I was growing up, the day was meant to acknowledge the love we shared for one another. We each decorated a box and then deposited hand-written kindnesses or sometimes small gifts into the other boxes. I had all but forgotten that sweetness. I added to my mother that the tradition would be ok to continue, for the kids, but was resolute that I would not personally honor Valentine’s Day any other way than by sadness. My boyfriend, having had his own share of heartbreak relating to the 14th was willing to oblige my anti-romance attitude.
Unlike previous years, I did go to work on “the hardest week of my year.” Many people were praying for my family and me during those days, and I could tell. Yet, I tiptoed around them, expecting grief to crush me into the metaphorical ground. Most of the voices of my loved ones were comforting, encouraging, and careful.
Though Davin acquiesced my Valentine’s Day request, he kindly asked me to consider that these dates – this month – might have a greater grief-hold on me than maybe any calendar number should. He said, “I wonder if these dates have too much power over you; if you’re giving them the ability to control your emotions simply because of their number.” I recoiled at his words, because for so long I have been saying, “grieve the days and grieve them hard with intentionality.” I have known they would be hard, so I “gave myself space to feel sad.” But his words also sank deep into my spongy subconscious until I could no longer keep them from the front of my mind. Had I been expecting with grace for the hard days – knowing hard times would come and planning to give myself space to mourn – or was there something else there? Sadness is ok, and necessary in some seasons, but is that all this was?
Where did the horrific image come from? Why did I react with such anger about Valentine’s Day? I asked the Lord. As the pieces began to come together, I realized that there was more to this than sadness. This was a mental struggle. Instead of holding space to grieve, I was caged by my own fear of grief. This was not love for a lost one, but it was instead the opposite of love. Fear – that all too familiar, sinister, terribly tenacious, weapon of the enemy.
In especially the last few years, I have begged God to take away an anxiety disorder I developed in high school. I have asked for prayer, practiced breathing techniques, used essential oils, spoken with trained professionals and friends alike, and even adjusted my eating patterns to move toward the healing God provides. And honestly, I was about to publish that God had given me a full healing! And you know what? I think He did. I really truly believe that God – in His perfect love – cast out fear.
So when I realized that I was in the clutches of fear, I gawked at that. How could I be fearful when I had been set free from those chains?
Over a year and a half ago, I started to process these questions. As I was finishing this blog, God brought those words back to my memory. I wrote,
“[He has freed me from fear, but] I’m still standing in the metaphorical chains. I take them from the ground and hold them in my fist with hatred… “God, do you see how much I hate these chains? I hate them like you hate them.” Those little pieces of metal are not alive. They do not move unless moved. But my grip gets tighter as I lasso them about myself. As the breath begins to choke out of me, I call out to God and say, “Lord! Save me!” And He does, of course, come to rescue me… But instead of unlocking the chains, he is unclenching my own fingers around their metal. He holds my hands and reminds me, “Child, you are free.”
Somewhere along the line, I became so familiar with grief and anxiety that I appreciated their presence more than the way forward into the unknown. I wrote, “This place it is not pleasant. It is not lovely, but it is familiar. It is something I know and remember. …When there is a storm raging around me, I yearn for the familiar paralyzation that the heaviness provides.” So I kept reaching back for them, even after I had been confident of my freedom. Somehow, some way, more likely through time rather than overnight, I let myself back into that cage and sat down.
There is a time for mourning and weeping. I still believe, wholeheartedly, that it is better to grieve intentionally and thoroughly in response to loss than to try to forget about it or fane happiness. Yet, there is also a season for healing, laughing, and dancing. Every grief journey is different, and each process is also unique, but there comes a time and I believe it has come for me, that it is good to move into the wide open unknown rather than to hold onto chains of past losses. I have grieved and I will always hold space in my heart for lost loved ones. The way forward is a new season and a new chapter. One in which I can let go of terrorizing images, send flowers to my boyfriend, and feel romance – even on Valentine’s Day – once again.
Featured image by SHTTEFAN