We spent a weekend at Faith’s Lodge on a retreat for grieving families. A place of healing tucked in Wisconsin’s woods, built by one broken-hearted couple to share with others.
We canoed, painted, and played together. Laughed around the campfire. Hiked through hills and fields. Walked the labyrinth over and over.
What caught me were the stories. They were thick around this place. Tucked into crevices of trees. Left along the lines of the labyrinth. Grouped in clusters in the garden. Every heart held a child’s story, a family’s love, a legacy reaching beyond death.
Faith lodges in the stories.
The only thing I can read lately is Scripture. That makes me sound like a holy roller, but I feel the furthest thing from it. It’s all I can do to put one foot in front of the other.
After our daughters died, I poured through more death-and-dying memoirs in six months than any sane person should safely read. (Short list of reviews? This is amazing. This is overrated. This is stark but well-written. This is funny but tiring. This is poetic perfection.) Then I tried a novel or two. But fiction can’t find me right now. Reality is enough on its own.
So I came back to Scripture. It’s the only word that makes sense.
I read the day’s readings. I wait till a word or phrase leaps off the page and catches in my throat. Then I know it is the one. I sit quietly and let it speak to me. (Lectio divina for the lost.)
I picture centuries of broken people bringing their stories to these stories, crying out in anguish “how can this life be?” and trying to find something – compassion and consolation, if not answers – in the words on the page.
The Word in the heart.
Maggie and Abby were born seven months ago tomorrow. This week we will make our monthly pilgrimage through the three days. Birth, death, death. Part of me dies each time we do this. Part of me is born.
Is it getting easier? Grief is more familiar. But not lighter to bear. For the rest of my life I will wince at unexpected tender moments, a sharp corner to a soft bruise.
“Were you disappointed when your last one was a boy?” a mom winks me at school pick-up, smiling in search of solidarity as she gathers her two boys into her minivan. I open my mouth to speak and cannot find a single word to start to explain.
“So are you trying again?” the dental hygienist probes after I calmly explain what happened after I was pregnant for my last checkup. I dig my nails into my palms and marvel at how humans cannot sit with pain for two seconds without lunging to fix it.
My life has leapt beyond small talk and simple sentences. It is a complicated story. A story that most people do not want to hear. A story of trauma and death, the kind of story that people declare “the worst,” shudder away with “I can’t imagine,” turn away from before they have to hear the end.
But this is my life. I had no choice in the matter.
So I go back to the only stories strong enough to bear my own.
Stay close to the stories. I heard this once, and I know it saved my life. It still is.
Because faith lodges in the stories. Like heart stones placed on holy ground, love notes to children from grieving parents, every single one a story.
All of them together could break your heart. Or build it into something stronger.
This is the power of stories, writing them and reading them. The possibility of creation. The whisper of redemption. The solidarity of suffering. The humility of mystery. The hope of salvation.
I see the stories everywhere now. Tucked into the corners of people’s mouths. Written into the wrinkles of their eyes. Held in the palms of their hands.
The whole human story is love + loss, staggering in its grief and goodness.
I find it here. And there. Everywhere. Stories are where faith lodges.
I can do nothing but keep reading, keep writing.
This is how you save – and live – a life.