When Came the Time to Build
No matter where I live, I keep three or four hiding places. They’re never fancy, but simple little corners who promise an escape from the noise. They’re always outside, always away from man-made madness, and always a source of life.
About a year after my personal little doomsday, I was headed to one of my favorite hiding spots with the constant companion who is my dog. It was Thanksgiving and I was talking to my mom over the phone. She was doing what she always does for everyone she knows: checking in on the status of my heart. (The most remarkable people on this planet are those who are always more interested in you, than you are in them – something that has always been true of my mom.) I remember stopping dead in my tracks when she asked. I was better. A smile spread and tears swelled at the realization of release. It came so quietly I didn’t know it was upon me. There were still years of learning ahead, but the wearying strain was behind.
Upon arriving at my hiding place, I found a spot under a tree and watched water glitter at me. It took me a minute to process the fact that I had moved so far forward without even knowing it. I tried to identify how it had happened but there never is just one thing, is there?
They rushed, rapid like a flood; and I’ll never forget them.
In the seconds after the end of the relationship, all of my immediate family members were swarming me with texts, prayers, and promises from that great Word. No obligations to call, no explanations required, no “I told you so’s”, no judgements, and no shame. Just “we love you” and “we’re here”. A lifeline in the airlift.
In the minutes after, one of my greatest friends text me a sentence I will never forget. He wrote only five words: “This is not your fault.” The impact that text had can’t be expressed, nor can my gratitude for it. He’s listened to me process, grow, and live for years, and that ever-poignant text is proof of his paying attention. I couldn’t be more grateful.
In the hours after, my sister invited me over to her house. She required nothing of me. She let me cry when I needed to, let me talk when I needed to, let me sleep when I needed to, and let me sit on the floor and play with niece until neither of us could anymore. When my brother-in-law came home from work that day, he walked over and knelt down next to me. He hugged me long and hard and said, “I’m praying.” The amount of support and rest and prayer and food and laughter that came from that house sustained me when I couldn’t sustain myself, and ‘thank you’ will never be enough.
In the days after, one brother called from more than a few states away. In his charismatic passion he nearly exploded with all the reasons why this was the best thing that ever happened to me. While I cried, he spoke of promise – one he knows personally. He went on for almost thirty minutes and if I’m being honest, I wasn’t listening – I really couldn’t. But I didn’t need to. His message was of his loyal love for me. He was on my team and he was letting me know at a time when I really needed to know people were on my team.
When another brother stepped in we were driving cross-country. He came with hard truth, which is probably the seed from which this grew. And while I cried, he spoke of my worth – words imprinted permanently on me and the red rocks of Colorado. His love was not a benign benevolence. It was sincere and unafraid of offending, but unwavering in loyalty and remains so.
In the weeks after I received a card from my aunt, maybe not by blood but for all intents and purposes, my aunt. Today it sits in the table beside my bed. In it, she wrote of hopes, dreams, and broken promises. She reminded me of the gift I have in my parents and siblings, in the promises I have in God, and the steady hand I would have in her. She also told me how much I’m worth, how much I have to offer, and how valuable I am to the world. I’ve read it over 100 times and I don’t know that I’ll ever stop.
In the months after, I was repeatedly (and am still) met with kindness, compassion, understanding, and patience from my grandmother. She bought meal after meal to watch me cry, walk with her arm around me, and listen to me process, even in silence sometimes. She let me be mad and sad and confused and impatient and absolutely refused to let me feel alone. I’ve sat in her house in the same twirly chair for uncountable hours while she and my grandfather cheered me to no end – while also sustaining me with food and extra cash when I had no other way out. While in hindsight I look at victory, I see her face all over it.
In the years after, my parents stand beside me still. Unmoved. The amount of devastation my choices have caused them is insurmountable at best, and yet they stand proudly, faithfully beside me. From these two, there are offered for me no more fervent prayers, no prouder claim, and no more furious love apart from that of God Himself. They are the two I respect most in the world, and I know certainly that their love, sacrifices, and prayers are the sun-scorched backs, the bleeding hands, and the blistered feet that laid the very stones I walk on. One of life’s great grasps out of reach is the ability to properly thank a parent. Mine feels like Jupiter.
In the Old Testament people built altars to acknowledge and remember God’s faithfulness to them. When they encountered God, or accomplished a great victory, or overcame a hardship they stopped and built an altar to acknowledge Him as the Giver. Every time they would come back around to that altar, they’d be reminded of the way He interceded and overcame for them – a permanent and lasting reminder.
I’m still trying to figure out what an altar in the 21st Century looks like, and part of my goal this year is to decide and erect one. Maybe these very words are it. What I know, is my wandering heart will forget unless it’s reminded constantly of what He’s done here. And my Father, and all the people listed above deserve me to remember. I don’t know where you are on the journey, but life is cyclical and it seems to me if you’re in drought now, you’ll be in harvest soon, or vice versa. The reasons to build an altar to remember are numerous, but if nothing else matters, let this: His love for you is unmatched, and because of that, He will let you hurt. But I promise, He’ll make it worth it if you let Him. Watch for Him to be faithful through it, because He will be. Look out for His love because He’ll send it, maybe not in the way you thought, but He will – after all, we watched for a conqueror and He sent a baby; we watched for heroes and He gave us thieves and prostitutes. His victory is there, always, in the most unexpected ways. So marvel here, at my stack of rocks – glorious, dirty, broken, and beautiful; uneven, unsteady, and yet prouder than anything I own.
– N. Ford