When my brothers and I were younger, we loved to tip over the big rocks that lined my parents’ gravel driveway. Often it took two of us to pull and pry and plop a stone onto its side so we could peer underneath. The dirt was rich and loamy, full of slimy worms squirming back into the soil and pillbox bugs scattering for shelter under safe darkness.
We’d lie on our bellies in the grass and poke at the world we’d discovered, hidden from the sun and our view just moments before. Sometimes we’d find a strange creeping insect or a shiny new rock to show each other. Eventually we’d grow bored and flip the rock right-side up again, trying to push it back into place.
But the stones never settled into their grassy grooves as snugly as they did before we went exploring.
Before we uncovered the shadow side.
. . .
Between Detroit and Beijing, my husband read this post in the airport on his phone, the post about my struggle with the shadow side of Mother’s Day. Later he told me that his first thought was that it was the kind of piece that went viral.
Call it Monday-morning-quarterbacking, but he was right.
I spent Mother’s Day weekend solo-parenting and watching stats spike and soar in the few spare moments I could snatch to keep up. I felt breathless.
Because this is what you want as a blogger, right? To write something that “sticks,” something that people share, something that sends traffic flying to your site.
But just like the last time this happened, when I wrote a letter on infertility and invisibility, the so-called success didn’t sit quite right with me. The whole reason my words were resonating with so many people was because of struggle and suffering.
It’s hard to sip celebratory champagne to that.
I finally stopped checking the stats. They were overwhelming. I had the introvert’s instinct to run for a cave and hide out as a hermit, safe and solitary. The thought of so many thousands of people reading my words, supposedly the writer’s dream, suddenly felt vulnerable and daunting.
And the nagging “what next?” question already was poking me in the side.
How to write something after Something Big.
How to write about joy and light after struggle and dark.
. . .
Do you know what matters to me the most as a writer?
When a reader takes time to write to me. And tells me that my book touched their life – their parenting, their marriage, or their ministry. These emails are treasures. I read each one over and over, still astonished that what I did could matter so much to someone else. They feel like a living, breathing gift in my hands.
But without fail? These letters tell me that what spoke to them was that I named the hard parts of parenting little ones. That I let light shine on darkness. That I helped them claim their own struggles as sacred. That I showed them God was there, too.
This is the only way I know how to write. The only way I know how to do hard and holy work.
To turn over the rocks and find the shadow side.
. . .
Clichés about light and dark abound. They are the easiest metaphors, greeting us at dawn, filling our days with play of cloud and sun, covering our world at dusk.
How do you even write about shadow in a fresh way? Maybe you say that darkness makes lightness even brighter. Maybe you play with paint and contrast and chiaroscuro. Maybe you set up opposites and then you tear them down or try to build bridges between them.
As emails poured in with people sharing their hopes and hurts about Sunday’s holiday, I kept thinking about the shadow side. I kept picturing grubby-kneed kids kicking over driveway rocks to discover a world underneath.
When you are willing to flip things over and see what lies on the unexamined side, you have to be willing to see shadows. You have to accept that everything will not settle back smoothly after you have gone exploring.
You have to embrace the hard and the hopeful, the dark and the delight. Any possibility of true, deep joy is only found in between.
. . .
Shadow itself is a word of contrasts.
It can mean gloom or fear. Or it can bring respite and relief on a hot day.
It can obscure what is still unknown. Or it can forewarn what lies ahead.
The opposite of shadow is no less clear. If shadow means darkness, then the opposite is light. If shadow means to follow, then the opposite is to lead.
If shadow is what falls behind us when we walk toward sun, then the opposite of shadow is whatever casts the contours of shade on the ground. It is us: humans, making our way in a world of conflict and contrast.
These are all things I care deeply about. Finding light in surprising places. Learning how to lead a good life and follow in faith. Trying to figure out what it means to be human.
Maybe this means there is no clear choice. Maybe this means I will always have to search for the shadows. Maybe this means it will always feel hard to write about the hard and holy.
But maybe it means that sometimes a calling chooses us, too. I am still that kid drawn to the world of mystery and possibility underneath what is seen.
I am still pushing over stones.