Between songs

When a beautiful woman in her sixties, with a serene face and an artistic hand, sits beside you at the craft table and asks to hear your story, you do not refuse. Nor do you refuse when a fun-loving stranger offers to do a coconut-oil-honey-and-cocoa-powder facial with you, and all the supplies are laid out. Nor when another cute and sassy stranger says “Hey, want to take a selfie with me? It’s my Sneaky Card assignment.”

I did not say no.

But this story starts long before that.

1.

This summer my left foot was stepped on by a six-foot-something stranger, who apologized profusely and said “I’m sorry, it was only a matter of time. I’m no good at dancing.” I am so happy it did not occur to him that it might have been my fault, the little Mennonite lady standing beside him in the front row at a Christian concert.

Well. When my eighteen-year-old brother told me that his guy friend had a last-minute change of plans and couldn’t make it, and would I be interested in joining him at an open-air summer concert, I did not say no. I said, “Will I like it?” And then I looked up the band online and said, “Well, they sound pretty mild.” He just grinned at me.

The night of the concert, he showed up holding an iced coffee he’d bought for me. It turned out there were three bands playing that night, none of which I’d ever heard before, and I do not think mild was necessarily the word I would choose in retrospect – they were handing out ear plugs in the front row and my, did we need them. But the confetti and smoke were fun. And what I could hear of the music I liked just fine.

My little brother was very sweet, he kept asking me if I needed anything and when I spilled my coffee on the dirt he got napkins for me, and when I cried he gave me a hug.

Yes, I did cry.

I did not go to the concert expecting to hear from God. I went to have an adventure with my brother, to eat funnel cake and to spend an evening happy and free. The songs made me loosened and peaceful – but it was between songs, when a new artist began to speak of his wife’s loss of an unborn baby, and of the wise words of an old woman in their congregation, that I suddenly melted and began to cry. I cried a hard and healing rain on that clear summer night, because I know about loss, and because in that story and in the golden shower of confetti I heard God say Shari, I see you.

2.

And then came a venue even stranger.

I watched a silly and fanciful movie, The BFG, based on Roald Dahl’s book about a Big Friendly Giant who concocts dreams to blow gently into the minds of sleeping children. I say the movie was silly because although I really like the BFG himself, there were too many scenes of drama for my liking, too many children in danger from the bad giants. But at one place there is a scene where the BFG tells Sophie that he hears everything in the world, and he will always be listening. He says, “I is hearing all the wonderous and all the terrible, terrible things. All the secret whisperings of the world.”

At the end of the movie, I closed the computer and went up to bed. I was scheduled to meet with my mentor the following afternoon. I planned to tell her about the stressors, the questions, the guilt. But we had to cancel at the very last minute, and my husband said, “Why don’t you take some private time anyway?” I drove to my favorite green-grassed graveyard, a quiet place of rhododendrons and old trees, and sat against a gravestone in the warm sun. I sat there, thinking and whispering to God, falling in and out of sleep, and while my mind was quiet I heard him say I hear you. I am right here. I am always right here, waiting for you to talk to me.

That was so good of him. I’d been pretty sure he wasn’t listening anymore, but now I had a picture of his face lighting up when I open my mouth, when I even whisper to him. Right there. He doesn’t miss a sound.

I see you. I hear you.

3.

Then then I told my friend Joanna that in October I’d go with her to a foster moms’ retreat, Rejuvenate PA. I wanted to go with her and she made the offer irresistible, but in the weeks leading up to the event I worried I wouldn’t belong. We don’t have a placement right now.

We don’t have a placement because we said goodbye to some small and precious children we could not keep, and took a break to care for the ones who were born to us, and the guilt and fear from that decision slowly rose to choke me this past year, a woolen shawl drawn ever more tightly around my chest and neck, prickling, constricting, choking. What had I done? What if I’d ruined everything? How did I ever think I could survive this?

I didn’t need a vacation at the fostering retreat. I needed healing. I needed hope.

That is how I found myself laughing and crying with strangers, doing crazy things like high-speed hayrides and board games past midnight, fake Italian accents, impromptu selfies, chocolate facials. We shared every activity: creating decoupage and planting fairy gardens, enjoying long massages donated by professional therapists, hearing the word of God, singing, painting, eating food we didn’t prepare, getting up early to worship and pray, soaking in the beautiful weather, listening to each other’s stories, talking, talking, talking.

We had creative generosity dumped on us, all weekend long.

When I arose for prayer one morning (after having decided to sleep in, and then wakening early after all, too excited to sleep), I found that the leaders had set up prayer stations all around the edges of our main room. Each station had printed instructions waiting for us. One station had a poster board with a cross drawn on it, where we were invited to write our troubles and let Christ carry them. On the cross were newly-written words like fear and control and guilt. There were many stations. I walked across the room to one and sat down. On a table were hand mirrors, and the instructions said, Look into a mirror. What do you see when you look at yourself? What do you think God sees? What is keeping you from accepting God’s version of who you are?

I looked into the mirror began to cry silently, hopelessly, without words. “I have not liked myself for months. I see shame, I see pain, I see worthlessness. I see a woman who is not enough.”

I let my Father look at me, there in the mirror. In his eyes there was nothing but love.

I see you. I hear you. I love you.

I cannot explain the works of God. I cannot say the darkness will not return. Sometimes I don’t talk to my Father about what I feel; sometimes I don’t hear him when he talks to me. But I know I experienced his healing in that place by hearing his voice, by letting his daughters care for me, and by worshipping his son Jesus.

By the end of the weekend I could look around the room and think “I know the name of that woman’s son, and what his needs are. I know this lady’s court date, and what she worries about. That woman gave me painting tips. This one sat by a campfire with me and reminded me of what the truth was. That one prayed for me. And she, and she, and she, will carry my story home with her.”

And now I am ready to go on.

24 thoughts on “Between songs

  1. Thank you for being real and sharing your heart. The constricting, choking feeling from guilt and fear…i know all to well. The feeling of worthlessness and never being enough. I needed this so much!! Thank you for the reminder of the hope we have and the love of our heavenly Father.

  2. Shari, This is really touching for me because it is about God and you. Is there anything in the world more meaningful than God’s love spoken to us? Thanks for telling this beautiful story. Jolynn

  3. Oh Shari! I just love your posts and most of all your heart. Thank you for sharing! I cried, I laughed and I truly felt every word written. You inspire me! Xoxo

  4. Your words make me ugly-cry, in the best sort of way. Thank you for opening the door to these very personal things. Sometimes when God whispers to one, the eavesdroppers are touched as well.

  5. I am so glad you came to the retreat. It is hard for me to imagine you feeling worthless, not-enough. Maybe because I know you just enough to admire you, but not enough to lose the she’s-all-put-together image? But I guess we all face those feelings. Yes, we know about brokenness and loss. I smile this morning because He met you in it. (also, did you read Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way?)

  6. Wow! What beautiful words! It’s so good to hear about the ways Jesus met you. (And that retreat sounded amazing and beautiful!!)

  7. “I hear you. I am right here. I am always right here, waiting for you to talk to me.”
    This truth is such a comfort! A few days ago I was writing this verse, “In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.”
    It was a lightbulb moment when I realized Of course He hears me! My body is His temple!! He lives inside me!! His hears my cry from within me, I don’t have to make a sound!!😍

  8. I am reminded once again why you are my favorite blogger! Your honesty and sincerity are so refreshing! Thank you for sharing your heart with us!

  9. Lovely. To know He meets us where we are. Even when we feel so messy and not enough, not worthy. Amazing. The way He speaks truth in unusual & unexpected times. You reminded me of the time I sat in an aquarium dolphin show crying over the dolphin ultrasound. Because I had recently seen my own unborn child whose spirit had gone to Jesus before I had even got to know him.

  10. Thank you. I know the stranglehold of guilt and fear…. and the dawning realization that Jesus wants to be our Friend. And “ready to go on” is happening here, too.

  11. This may be one of my favorite-est posts ever. I’m so glad you took the opportunity to hang out with your youngest brother. Sometimes baby brothers are gone way too soon. I’m so glad you dare to do things outside of the normal Mennonite box. Sometimes boxes need to be broken. I’m so glad you hear and recognize the voice of the Father. Sometimes it’s the only thing to set the world right again.

  12. Your words remind me of these verses from Psalms:

    “I love the LORD for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live” -psalm 116:1-2

    What an encouragement to read of the way Jesus is speaking to you and bringing healing to your heart!!! Your story makes me jealous….(in a good way, I hope) to know and experience his tender love in deeper ways myself.

  13. I love the sibling photo; you look so happy. I’m usually busy feeling weary and responsible (cue your next post) and it gets in the way of that kind of moment.

    Your post connected with two profound messages from my own history, two that I need to see again: acknowledgement (I see you, I see this hard thing, I see you trying to be brave in its face) and Immanuel (I am with you). That last one came when I was being crushed between my miscarriage and reading Island of the World. I wished all the bad would go away and then one morning, dripping tears into the dishwater, I realized my deeper fear was being alone in it. I wondered whether loneliness is one of human’s worst preys and caught my breath at the significance of the incarnation.

    Words from Jesus are so precious. Thank you for sharing yours.

  14. This blessed me more than you could ever know. It is so good to know I am not alone with some of my feelings. Never enough. God is not listening. Thanks for sharing your struggle.

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