Starless Nights

starless perfect

“There are times when everything looks very dark to me—so dark that I have to wait before I have hope. Waiting with hope is very difficult, but true patience is expressed when we must even wait for hope…

I lift the blinds as high as they will go. Sometimes the sky looks dark purple. Other times it’s a rich, deep shade of navy. Tonight, it is blackthe cosmos starless. I prop myself up with several pillows and pull my knees close to my chest. On nights when I’m restless, when the world feels heavy, when my breathing is shallow, when the anxiety laces tightly around my heart, when the pain is fierce and the hurt burns deep, when the tears brim to the very top, I pull the blinds and look out at the sky.

I launched this summer by celebrating my birthday. I made a bold declaration, a commitment to hope for crazy things. Hope. I keep circling back to this word, this concept, this way of living. I work hard to pay attention to patterns and repetitions in my life as I believe they have something important to say. I need themes and words and images in different seasons to anchor me, and this year I chose to dig my heels into hope. I declared this without knowing exactly what it would mean. I did not anticipate the challenges and tests it would bring. I’ve been pushed farther than I ever thought possible and tested way beyond what I consider reasonable. Four months laterstill hereI’m staring at the sky from the same window, holding onto an almost imperceptible flicker of hope. Who? Who keeps searching for stars when it just keeps getting darker? Who boldly hopes for something with nothing to stand on? With no evidence of an answer? With no promise of a positive outcome? Who hopes without direction, when there are no arrowed signs? {Hesitantly raises hand.}

My still-in-progress, working definition of hope is this: an unwavering expectation of fulfillment of God’s promises held in tension with complete trust in His ways and His timingthat may or may not align with mine. Hope is the courage to name desires and simultaneously yield them.{Please feel free to comment below and help me continue shaping this definition.} The struggle, of course, is to keep hoping even when the answer is a loud, resounding no. Antithetical. Hope is completely antithetical. It’s a paradox that is driving me insane and has also engrossed my curiosity. I am looking everywhere for it while also trying to learn how to claim it in the dark. 

It’s been a summer of “no’s.” Closed door, after door, after door, after door, after door, after door. I am not exaggerating. I wish I could tell you my hope has been unwavering in the face of every door that shut. But after awhile the banging and the slamming has rattled my soul, leaving me feeling a bit fragile. I’ve been knocked down more than a few times, but I’ve done my best to stand back up. I’ve had moments of unfaltering hopeutter certaintythat any bystander may have mistaken for foolishness. Hell, even I’ve questioned my sanity. Some days hoping boldly is a courageous claim that makes me feel like Wonder Woman. Other times I simply feel like a madwoman. The truth is, I’ve struggled this summer to walk in my very own declaration.

My cat meows. I turn and see him yawn. It’s 4:32am and I can’t sleep. He’s clearly disturbed by my typing. And potentially the Sandra McCracken song that’s been playing on repeat.

I turn back to face the window. I need the sky to remind me that I am small and that God is bigbig enough to carry me through starless seasons. I just finished reading Brené Brown’s book, Rising Strong. I don’t want to sound dramatic or anything, buuuuuut it basically changed my life. {Another blog, another time.} Brown labels what I’ve been calling “starless seasons” as “the middle.” No one can skip the middle. Sorry! I already asked for you. That was my first question, too. Brown insists it’s a non negotiable part of our stories. “The middle is messy,” she says, “but it’s also where the the magic happens.” This summer has been a “middle” for me. I’m here to testify that the author did not lie, the middle is awful. I do believe that hope is always there, even in the middle, even if the flame is just a flicker. Alas, this does not make it any less awful. Brown quotes a portion of Margaret Atwood’s novel Alias Grace {a book I have never read}. Atwood describes how violent and disorienting starless seasons can be. She minces no words, saying:

“When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.”

A confusion and a blindness. Absolutely! A house in a whirlwind. Yes! {I might be jumping up and down like one does when something resonates so deeply.} It’s been a summer of silence. Everything swirling, winds seemingly howling, and yet no sound. But. It’s also a story in the making. Therein lies the hope, I think. 

I attended a funeral today for a woman who I actually never met. I haven’t experienced a personal death of a friend or family member so I don’t know what that’s like. But it was heart wrenching to witness such sorrow; to hear what grief sounds like, to see it on the faces of the mourners. The pastor officiating the funeral reminded those in attendance that when we love deeply we grieve loss deeply. I thought about how true I’ve found this to be in my own life. In her book BittersweetShauna Niequist says, “It’s so much easier not to love anything, because then your heart can never get broken…the stakes have gone up in our lives, the way they do, it seems, every time you decide to love something.” I tried my hardest not to love for a very long time. It seemed like the wisest choice; to protect myself from pain and loss and a broken heart. Although it may be easier not to love than to love and easier to despair than to hope, I know a life without love and a life lived in despair lead to an empty life, at best. Broken hearts? Oh, they totally hurt like hell. Starless seasons? They will test you in ways you didn’t think possible and stretch you beyond what you’re able to imagine. I know, because I’m in the middle of juggling both.

I make everyone I know watch the movie Inside Out. I’ve basically memorized it still manages to delight me every. single. time. Sadness is my favorite character. I giggle when Joy tells Sadness not to cry and Sadness replies by saying: “Crying helps me slow down and obsess over the weight of life’s problems.” Although I laugh at her cuteness {and frequent dramatic collapses onto the floor} I also listen for the truth in her words. If you’re trying to avoid love, you’re also trying to avoid tears. I hate tears. But, when you’re in the middle, tears really do help. I’ve cried a lot of them this summer and I shed more today over the loss of a life that has left a man without a wife and two daughters without a mother. I let the tears fall again tonight, drops of hurt and fear and confusion. I recall the words of the pastor, who admittedly said, “I don’t know why. I truly do not understand.” Thank you. Thank you for saying that. If applauding at funerals was appropriate I’d have initiated a standing ovation. Thank you for not trying to explain away loss to make us feel better. Death is horrible. Don’t pretend it’s not. I’m thinking all these things to myself when I hear the pastor say, “God isn’t as interested in our understanding as he is with our trusting his purposes.” UGH. I want to punch something. His words are like arrows that pierce through my soul. There it is. The struggle to trust, to walk in the dark, to surrender. It’s confusing when you’re hurting so deeply and wondering where the God is who supposedly “loves” you. On behalf of the widowed man, the pastor asked, “Why would God allow you to hurt this much?” He leaned forward from the edge of the pulpit and paused for what felt like a very long time. When he’d locked eyes with his friend he said, “Remember how deeply the Lord allowed you to love? It’s the opposite side of the same coin.” More tears fell in my lap as I acknowledged this painful truth. Love is a gift. The tears serve as evidence. 

In Inside Out, what moves the story forward is allotment for the emotion of sadness. Tears. At the very end of the movie, all the characters stand in silence and watch sadness distinguish, and even enhance, the emotion of joy. Joy had to learn this truth on the arduous journey back to headquarters. We don’t get to skip the journey back to headquartersThere’s another side to the coin that we can’t afford to pretend doesn’t exist. 

It rained off and on all day. It was appropriately grey and dreary, mirroring the sad souls and mourning hearts at the graveside burial. The weather left the sky clouded. No stars out my window tonight. I remorsefully wonder if I’ve hoped well this summer. Not understanding makes it hard to hope every day, every minute, every second, all. the. time. I’m still in the thick of the mess of the middle. No magic to report. Not yet. I’m waiting at the window for the stars to shine. I know my hope can be incredibly frail. When I can’t see it, or hear it or feel it, I do my best to blindly claim it because deep down I believe it’s still there, somewhere. 

…When we see no hint of success yet refuse to despair, when we see nothing but the darkness of night through our window yet keep the shutters open because stars may appear in the sky, and we have an empty place in our heart yet will not allow it to be filled with anything less than God’s best—that is the greatest kind of patience in the universe.” ~ L.B. Cowman

Footnotes:

Brown, Brené. Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015. 27-28

Cowman, L.B. Streams in the Desert. Edited by Jim Reimann. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997. 287

Inside Out, dir. Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen (United States: Pixar Animation Studios, 2015), DVD.

Niequist, Shauna. Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change Grace & Learning the Hard Way. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan,  2013.

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2 thoughts on “Starless Nights

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  1. ” I do believe with all my heart that hope is always there, even in the middle, even if the flame is just a flicker.” I remember how you would light a candle in the early morning hours when you would spend time communing with God…Keep lighting those candles, girl…even if it’s just a flicker of a flame…Hope is coming for you…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It is very hard in life when you lose hope ; but when the dark night is over the sun comes out once again we find hope once more.Thanks for sharing. I love you sweet girl! GiGi

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