This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.
The words ring like a bell over the phone, summoning me out of the dream we dared to pursue despite our history of pain and the high risk.
“Not possible,” says a second opinion. And then a third.
Scouring the internet, pouring over long text banks of legalese, the harsh truth that indeed this dream is not possible finally sinks in.
Just a few days ago, my husband and I opened our hearts to the possibility of adopting a baby girl soon to be born on the other side of the border. Her mother’s aunt, a friend, reached out to us believing she’d found an answer to both her teen-aged niece’s desperation and our desire. Our hearts soared with hope as we jumped into action, but today we discovered international law prohibits this adoption.
This dead end is yet another in a long line of disappointments on our path to parenthood. Since I was a small child, I have longed to be a mother. For the past eight years, my husband and I have pursued this dream in myriad ways, yet still we remain a family of two.
With no resolution to our infertility or our childlessness, with little change in our desire to parent, we’ve carried our loss through the changing seasons of our lives. Sometimes it is a silent companion, content to sit in the corner unnoticed. Other times it is a raging fire threatening to consume us.
Time has made this loss more quiet, more often. It has become more familiar and less frightening. We’ve even witnessed beautiful growth and opportunity sprout from the darkness of our loss.
But there are days, like today, in the face of this heavy news, when the wound reopens and bleeds fresh, and the pain feels just as raw and deep as ever.
How does one continue to grieve the loss of something that never was?
Today my heart feels so heavy that it is literally hard to move. Every step feels laborious. Slowly I walk through my neighborhood and down into the Arroyo Seco—a dry and dusty natural area that hugs the edge of Los Angeles.
As the asphalt underfoot shifts into the soft sand of the arroyo and the sky opens up into a wide expanse free from the usually trappings of telephone wires, I feel my body begin to relax. My breath comes more fluidly. The pain in my chest feels less sharp.
In this wild space there is room to simply be.
I am held by nature’s quiet presence—no demands or expectations. I don’t have to mask my pain or force a smile. Here in this open space, I am allowed to hurt. And this freedom makes my burden lighter.
A prairie falcon cries out. I catch sight of its white breast curved like the crescent moon above. Two cotton-tailed rabbits dart into the safety of a sugar bush, and the wind makes the dry grasses sing. On the dusty trail, I find a bright green parrot feather. I hold it between my fingers, and the words of the psalmist rise up within me, “I will shelter you in the shadow of my wings.”*
Nothing has changed really. Yet in the beauty of the natural world around me, I sense my awareness shift and open to the comforting Presence of God pulsing in the arch of darkening sky, in the soft breeze against my skin, in the quiet confidence of the creatures who, as poet Wendell Berry puts it, “do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.”**
In Jesus’ sermon on the mount, he offers the following antidote to worry, “Consider the birds of the air,” he says, “…the lilies of the field.” *** I have found that this is also good medicine for grief.
Loss can shrink my vision to the throbbing ache of my own wound. Turning outward into the rugged beauty of wild places, I find perspective.
Here my senses are awakened and soothed. I am drawn outside myself. Instead of breathing in ragged gasps between sobs, I inhale the sweet scent of California bay laurels. Rather than tears, my eyes fill with the bright orange of poppies in bloom.
In nature I find space for my loss. There is everywhere evidence of both life and death, darkness and light—it is a space where everything has its place, nothing is left out. The cosmic dance of the created world in all of its variety is on display, and I am a part of it. Here I see my own grief as part of a larger story, one in which everything belongs.
Most significantly I sense in nature the deep and abiding Presence of the God who, in great love, created this world, created me. I breathe in this Presence, and in this radiant moment, my heart knows the truth it is always seeking: I am Beloved. This is enough.
INVITATON TO PRACTICE:
- Go outside. A patch of grass or shady tree will do.
- Be in your body. Let your five senses engage with the space around you carrying you into a deeper experience of the present moment.
- Be present. Prayer is the simple recognition of the Presence of God right here, right now. In this space of beauty, can you sense the Creator’s presence? You are held just as you are in abundant Love. Can you bring your real and raw self into the awareness of this Love?
- Rest. Grief is exhausting. Rest here in Divine embrace. Maybe even take a nap!
- Repeat. For me, this means sitting in my garden each morning and hiking once a week.
Middle school teacher, foster mama, and creative contemplative, Stephanie Jenkins is a southern California native who currently lives in Los Angeles with her wonderful husband Billy. In addition to relishing time spent outdoors, she also enjoys yoga, art-making, poetry, and journaling.
**Berry, Wendell. “The Peace of Wild Things.” The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Washington, D.C: Counterpoint, 1998. Print.