On the good days I fear that I’ll get sucked back under, churned wild under the waves, like a spin cycle set to run too long agitating me this way and that.
I feared it when I was jubilant and every good thing was like low hanging fruit, so ripe and easy to pluck from the branches, heavy with worth and promise.
I fear the fall.
Sometimes hope terrifies me. I’m not supposed to say that. It seems contrary to all the good things like faith and promise and trusting God.
Here’s the funny thing. I trust God and have faith and then there’s this too. This hesitancy to hope. I pray to the God of lost things and the God of found things and I know He’s one and the same. How that makes sense is still something I’m trying to figure out. I might not know it any better than this- He gives and He takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.
Sometimes God gives good days.
On the good days, I stoke the fire until it’s fevered and snapping like the height of a jazz song, the heat caressing my skin like a lover and I watch the snow fall outside like new beginnings. And I can’t crush the hope that rises from the embers.
On the good days, strawberries taste like sugar in my bowl. Nina Simone sings melodies straight to my hips and they sway with my womanhood, sensual and beautiful and feeling good. They don’t feel like mama hips and the remnants of a birthing belly. I don’t feel like damaged goods when there’s extra wobbly bits. My hips are miracle makers, love shakers, they disrupt everything I’ve seen in the glossy ads and the music videos and the before and afters that promise I’ll be more beautiful later, not now. Never now.
On the good days, I say today is the now, and I am beautiful. This is how I spit out the palatable lies. On the good days, I splash that red lipstick on my lips and sing along. This is my rebellion against self-loathing.
“Freedom is mine, and I know how I feel, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me. I’m feeling good,” Nina sings. I believe her on the good days.
On the good days, my fingertips feel like angel wings and they soar across the keyboard tapping a lifeline like morse code, to navigate my way to God’s goodness. My hand scribbles frantically in the margins of my notebook and on old receipts and the ink bleeds my story on every blank space and I dream of it all being worth it. Of those hard things mattering. Of the working of good things and purpose and I feel like a woman called. On the good days, this offering makes sense and it doesn’t feel like a catalogue of brittle words strung together like gibberish. On the good days, I believe this work means something.
On the good days I make my kids laugh, I dance in the kitchen and I stand on my tiptoes to kiss my husband like the girl he fell in love with. Our kids call us gross through huge smiles and giggles. On good days I believe I am a woman loved. I am home.
On the good days, I set my face to the sun and let it bathe my cheekbones with hope. And it’s no less scary, but it’s everywhere and I can feel it as a tangible thing. I can feel it. Untethered hope as native to my skin and soul and body as the DNA encoded in my cells. I can’t help but let it lead me towards spring.
I fear hope as much as I fear despair. I live a life grappling for center.
Despair terrorizes a woman’s rhythm dragging it lifeless from her hips and it rips song lyrics and laughter from her once red lips. It leaves slippered feet shuffling like crumpled gray bones pushing an invisible walker.
She’s shuffling Sisyphus’s eternal burden up and down and back again and instead of a crushing stone, she’s bearing the weight of a troubled mind, a life of mental illness, a broken body. And hope feels like the worst betrayal when the bad days come. Because God takes away.
When the bad days come, she remembers her dreams long enough to know she was ridiculous to believe she could.
On the bad days, she pushes her face into her pillow and silently screams, she thrashes about in her body like a trapped animal and longs to shed skins, writhing in this world that never could fit her. On the bad days she can’t imagine any good could come of any of this.
On the bad days, she hears the sorrow in Nina’s voice and the pain tinged in her words. On the bad days, she sees we haven’t come far at all. The headlines declare the gross misdeeds of men, the rationale to hate, to fear, to other each other. On the bad days, she sees it in the pews, in the hands lifted to a God we forgot to trust, and a Lord we refuse to surrender to, all to make America something it never was, the great hope.
On bad days she knows she does it too, driving past the houses with confederate flags hung side by side with the stars and stripes, she curses them. They are not her neighbors, her brothers and sisters, her burden for redemption, her command to love your enemies. On bad days, she’s moving to Canada if she were a person who could move about easily in the world. But she’s not, so on the bad days, she feels overwhelmed and rage simmers and she battles cynicism and bitterness like purging poison from her veins. And she’s just so tired of it all.
On the bad days, it scares her how easy it is to hate. Hate kills hope and despair equally. It is an equator to land on. It begins with lament and justifiable anger, it feels productive and right, godly even. It is an equilibrium between hope and despair, until it consumes and the gospel is lost when there’s not enough hope for those kinds. And you can’t shake loose the call to pray for those who persecute you. Oh Lord, on the bad days this feels like too much to ask. What do we do with the persecution that comes from within our own body?
On the bad days, the well-meaning ones summon up every ounce of energy in her not to scream in their faces, “You don’t understand!” And she doesn’t want advice from their hypnotherapist or their crossfit coach or a pamphlet on the miracle shake that their moody great-aunt drank and was cured. She doesn’t want them to tell her about their PMS and how that’s basically the same thing. She doesn’t want their pithy quote about God using everything or just choose joy.
On the bad days, she wants to shake with rage, like the madwoman she fears she is, tear her clothes and pull at her hair and spray spittle from bared teeth on those well-meaning ones. Because don’t you see? The energy to smile and nod and pretend she hasn’t tried every last thing makes her so exhausted she wants to crumple to the floor and wail and there are so few safe places for the hurting to just hurt. The well-meaning ones peddle in quick fixes and snake oil hope tinctures that go down easy and come back violently.
Why are we so bad at mourning with those who mourn and weeping with those who weep? Why do the well-meaning do so much damage?
On the bad days, her mirror tells her not to bother with seeing beauty because her skin isn’t clear, her eyes slant narrow with suspicion, her lips strangle with unspeakable things, her body sags with the gravity of bipolar tectonics, shifting her days to little earthquakes.
So many breakable things are shattering around her.
On the bad days, she feels like it’s all wreckage and the Richter scale measures Sisyphus’s stone rolling back down like she knew it would.
On the bad days, she’ll do nothing but fail and fall short. She is certain she is a nuisance, a bother, a constant burden of misery. She is certain they don’t really want her there, she doesn’t belong. She doesn’t have what it takes. She believes they’d be better off without her. She is certain she’s screwing up everyone and everything. She is the worst kind of fraud, one who hoped and lost it all so easily, so often. She’s scorched earth and barren lands. She’s a lost girl.
On the bad days, she revisits her tears and her pain and her brokenness and she offers her nothing to God. Her nothing is everything she has on the bad days. She comes empty and reeking with need.
On the bad days, she sets her face to that spot in the sky where the sun will rise and believes in morning. She sets her life to the sunrise knowing it has never failed. She believes in the steadying grace of new light and although she grieves the darkest nights, as long and constant as they seem, she has set her hope in the infallibility of risen things that come like ransom. A Savior, a dream, and a great wild terrifying hope.
The God of found things who sees her, who comes for her.
She sees small grace and grasps hold, naked and nothing and she worships what she cannot even feel. Isn’t this faith? Not that we wouldn’t fear, or doubt, or suffer. Faith doesn’t eliminate feeling wrecked or salvaged by the good days or bad days, but the stone isn’t being rolled up and crashing down like some mythical tragedy of lessons to be learned. No, the stone’s been rolled away, the risen things take their place in the souls of mortals and we call them hope. Our only hope. And so she waits.
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.- Job 1:20-21